I'm Here, Now What?

I'm Here, Now What?
Oh no, someone is in the hospital. I hate hospitals. Should I go visit? Even if the person is unconscious? What about that smell? Will I get sick if I go? How long should I stay? I don’t know what to do when I get to the room. I don’t like the sight of tubes, machines, blood, phlegm, stitches. Can I bring the kids? What should I bring to the patient? Is food okay? Will I get lost in the hospital? Is there parking? Bathrooms? How can we visit, with people in and out all the time? I’d rather have root canal work. Can I just call instead?

If you pour a glass of lemonade for someone, watch them drink it, then take a sip of your own milk, you’ll experience surprise. Your senses of smell and sight had prepared your brain for lemonade. So when your taste buds get milk, there’s a traffic jam on the brain signal highway. Of course, all is well in a nanosecond, and your brain is fine with milk.

The same holds true of what you expect in a hospital. If you have your brain ready for unpleasant smells and visions, you will have them. Realistically, there is no ‘hospital smell’. Does it smell like home? No. Maybe better. Does it smell like cleaning solution? If Housekeeping is where you are, yes. This is a good thing. It may not be the scent you like. Get over it. Can you smell body waste? Then wait until the nursing staff is finished with the patient.

You CAN choose not to be bothered by this. It’s a process called mind over matter. It works. And here’s the main thing to remember about hospital visits: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. You would crawl over broken glass or walk through flames to save a child, or a loved one. This is no less a task. What your visit can mean to the patient far outweighs your perceived discomforts.

The same holds true of tubes, body fluids, bandages. It never ceases to amaze, that people who watch the most horrible stuff on tv, or play gruesome video games, get totally wimpy when they see an oxygen tube. Nasal tube? Fageddaboudit. Grow up, people. Mind over matter. Love conquers all, even oogy hospital stuff. It may interest you to know that every single medical staffer has a certain procedure that gives them the willies. But does it stop them? Never.

If you truly, really cannot (read: will not) get over your apprehensions, then it is best you stay home. Your attitude or whining will not be beneficial to anyone.

Another area of insecurity is what one should actually DO while in the room. Here’s your master plan:

Out of respect, knock gently on the door, and await permission to enter. Greet the patient and the roommate. If the patient is asleep or unconscious, go in quietly;

Place your carry-in bag far from the patient;

Wash your hands;

Go to the bedside. Hug, or touch the hand of the patient. Move a chair to the bedside if one is available. Sitting on the bed is not recommended;

Don’t ask how they are, it’s obvious. Tell them you are glad to see them. Ask about other visitors. Share family news. Talk about current events, even reading from the newspaper. Look at their cards and flowers, and comment. Don’t let periods of silence make you uneasy. Just sit quietly and BE. It is most appreciated. A favorite story is the group of friends that met in a woman’s hospital room and did needlework amidst sparse bits of conversation;

Watch closely for signs of fatigue, and take a cue. Or sit there and let them sleep. Some patients sleep best when they know someone is there for them;

Be upbeat and positive.

See? Piece of cake. Hopefully you brought a card, artwork from the kids, a bulletin from church. Put them up after sharing.

Food should not be brought in unless previously cleared by a nurse. Do you know hospitals no longer offer grapefruit juice because it affects medications? A number of spices, additives, or sugars will do the same. Smuggling in a favorite fast food may be fun, but can throw off test results, prolonging the patient’s stay. You don’t want to do that.

Even if food is okayed, be aware of the fact that many medications make people sensitive to smells, and can make them ill. So keep it simple. A spicy dish can have more than one patient calling for a nurse after it enters the room. Digestive systems may be temporarily sensitive, so onions or fiber content can cause problems after eating.
Your intentions are good, and you are loved for it. But keep it simple.

Finally, a word on kids making hospital visits. If for a sibling, absolutely. However, in any other case, it’s better to leave them with friends or family. Kids are germy. The patient may be self conscious being seen in hospital gowns by kids. But the greater difficulty is that kids have appropriate shorter attention spans. Attention is inevitably turned to the children. While you’re at the hospital, this will create stress for you and the patient, possibly staff. Always call ahead to the patient’s nurse to see if kids can come. Don’t be offended when they say no. And during cold and flu season, they will not be allowed, no matter what.

Common sense and a little planning ahead can make a visit extremely easy, and very meaningful. Don’t be surprised to find that you, too, feel better afterward. Remember that actions speak louder than words.


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