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20 Insights on Hospital Visitation from Room B480

As I write this, I’m sitting uncomfortably in a hospital bed, wearing a drafty gown, paper undies, and socks that inflate and deflate periodically to keep my legs stimulated.

I’m in here because I herniated a disc in my back.

Last month, while on vacation in Tennessee, we went to Dollywood.  I hurt my back on the Thunderhead roller coaster.  At first I thought it was just a pinched nerve.  It was actually an injured disc, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

It hurt for several weeks but, after a couple of weeks of chiropractic care, it felt better and I thought it was all behind me.  Well, lifting a box last Monday caused the disc in my back to herniate more and introduced me to a delightful variety of pain that I would not wish on anyone…except Lane Kiffin, but that’s another issue.

I’ve been here for four days and it looks like, after a lot of poking, sticking, experiments with latex gloves, late night tests of my vitals, scans, and some special shots in my back, I’ll be heading home within the hour.

This has been a very unique experience for me.

I’m not used to being not well.  I exercise a lot and have enjoyed good health for most of my life.  Who knew that a ride on an old wooden roller coaster in the Smoky Mountains would take me on such a wild health ride here in the plains of Northern Colorado?  Life is full of unexpected twists and turns.

I’ve not been in a hospital bed since I had an appendectomy back in 1999, but I’ve been in hospitals as a Minister countless times and have been in this particular hospital–visiting people–so many times that I know many of the staff by name.

Well, now that I’ve been on the other side of the hospital room and I was the one in the bed being visited by friends, family, and dutiful clergy types, I’ve gleaned some important insights that I’d like to share with you.

And, for the record, none of my visitors this week did anything inappropriate when they visited me. I was blown away by the kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness of everyone who visited me.

These insights come from what I experienced from some of the hospital staff (not doctors or nurses, but some of the other employees who were not involved in treating me), from talking to other patients, and from discussions with some of the nurses.

The next time you visit someone in the hospital remember (In no particular order)…

1. You don’t have to come by and visit for the patient to know you care.  In fact, depending on the severity of the patient’s illness or injury, sometimes the most caring thing you can do is to just stay away and give the patient space to heal.  If you feel the need to let the person know you care, send an email (yes, most patients have the ability to receive and read emails even while in the hospital), send a card, send flowers, call the room, or just send an encouraging word to the patient through a family member.

2. If the patient is feeling ok, visits are a wonderful blessing.  I was so grateful for the people who visited me this week.

3. Always knock before entering the room.  Even if the door is slightly open.

4. Wait for an audible and clear, “Come in!” before entering a patient’s room.  Several housekeepers got a special preview of “Arron Chambers” this week, when they misunderstood my, “No, don’t come in!” as, “Please come in!” 🙂

5. If you enter the room and find that the person is using the restroom in their room, quietly go back into the hall, knock on the door again, and wait for them to invite you in.  It’s really awkward to come out of the bathroom trying to secure a loosely fitting hospital gown and find yourself unexpectedly entertaining a roomful of guests.

6. The patient may have things at home with which he/she needs help, so you may want to ask if there’s something you can do to so that he/she has one less thing to worry about. Many people who visited me this week blessed us by taking our kids to their practices, bringing meals by the house for Rhonda and the kids, taking the kids and picking the kids up from school, and a variety of other generous acts that allowed me to focus on getting well and Rhonda to focus on being here for me.

7. Unless you’re family or a very close friend, 5-8 minutes is a good length of time to visit.

8. If the doctor walks in to talk to the patient while you are visiting the patient, unless you’re immediate family, it’s probably best for you to excuse yourself so the patient and doctor can talk discretely.  You don’t have to leave, but you should at least wait out in the hallway.

9. Don’t ever sit on the patient’s bed.  The patient is sitting in bed already feeling very uncomfortable with how he/she smells (I could only bathe a couple of times and a sponge bath doesn’t leave the patient feeling especially clean and hygienic), feels, and with how little they let you wear in the hospital.  The last thing they want is someone else infringing on that awkwardness.

10. If the patient’s meal tray arrives while you’re visiting the patient, unless you’re family, excuse yourself so the person can eat without feeling rude for eating in front of you or give the patient permission to eat in front of you.   It’s my experience that, whether the food is good or not, meals are much anticipated by patients–especially if he/she is on a special diet.

11. Unless you’re a doctor, don’t offer medical advice.

12. When considering how long to visit a patient, remember this principle: It’s better to leave people wanting more than to give them too much.

13. If you notice that the patient’s eyes are closing while you are talking with them, it’s probably because they’re medicated or simply exhausted and ready to rest, so excuse yourself so they can rest without feeling like they are being rude to you.

14. A patient typically feels the need to make every visitor feel welcomed and appreciated.  We are so grateful that you care enough about us to come and visit.  Even so, this can be extremely draining for the patient.  Trust me, patients are grateful for visitors.  Just remember, every visit that requires engagement on the part of the patient, can be emotionally and physically draining.

15. I LOVED having visitors but I was reminded, as I talked with the medical staff, that some visitors forget they are visiting sick people.  Don’t forget that patients are in the hospital because they are not well and need to get better; they’re not just hanging out, watching TV, and waiting for visitors. 

16. Assuming the patient is not battling an infectious disease and that you aren’t carrying one, don’t be afraid to touch the patient.  I was grateful for everyone who held my hand and prayed with me this week.

17. Be nice to the doctors, nurses and staff who are caring for the patient.  I became very close to the doctors, nurses, housekeepers, and orderlies who worked with me this week and I was proud to introduce my friends to them and I was so proud that all of my visitors this week treated my “new friends” at the hospital with kindness and respect.  Everyone here at the hospital knew that I was a Pastor, so I was so happy that the staff here liked the people from my church who visited me.  It brought glory to the name of Christ and spoke well of the people of Journey.

18. Prayer is always the best thing you can do for, and with, the patient.  I can’t express how grateful I am for everyone who prayed with me this week.

19. Gifts, cards, plants, candy, and balloons are very much appreciated.

20. But, a Grande White Mocha Coffee from the Blue Mug is most appreciated.


©2012 Arron Chambers

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