By Marie O’Toole
All of us, at one time or another, have had a friend or relative in the hospital. Sometimes it is the sudden onset of illness which leaves a patient’s family members in a bewildering situation. Other times, and unfortunate accident can lead to months of treatment and physical therapy. Whatever the situation, medical crises are times when friends and family are most needed. What are some practical ways you can be a “friend in need” while a loved one is sick or injured?
When Visiting at the Hospital
Being alone in a hospital is often frightening, and it is always boring. You will surely want to visit your friend, but check the hospital’s policy first on guests (what hours they are allowed; if she is in the intensive care unit, if she will be able to receive visitors at all). If your friend has just given birth, be sure to ask her wishes before you visit – not all new moms want visitors at the hospital, and would prefer you come to see her and the baby once they are at home.
Three things to keep in mind when visiting at the hospital:
- Be respectful in the length of time you stay. Depending on your friend’s medical condition, she may need more quiet rest than you realize, and she may not be able to focus on a conversation for very long. This is especially true in cases of serious illness or if she is on pain medication, which cause extreme drowsiness. If she is sharing the room with another patient, do not stay longer than an hour as longer visits make it difficult for the roommate to rest.
- Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap before entering the room. Many infections are spread in hospitals, and the first line of prevention is frequent hand-washing. If your friend has a compromised immune system, (for example, if she is receiving chemotherapy), this is crucial. Precautions such as masks and gloves are often used by visitors with cancer patients, as well. Being especially careful with hygiene (and postponing a visit if you are sick yourself) is very important for your friend’s well-being.
- Letters (and other personal touches) mean a lot. While enduring a tedious hospital stay, patients will appreciate the knowledge that friends are thinking of and praying for them. It’s fun (and helps the time pass more quickly) to look at photo albums and remember things you’ve done together, read personal notes, or enjoy a book you’ve selected with her in mind. Books make excellent gifts, as do electronic devices. Avoid bringing balloons, as many patients have latex allergies.
Depending on how sick your friend is and her personal wishes, it might be a good idea to avoid bringing young children to the hospital. Also, visits in the evening should be avoided, especially by several people at once. You will want to be considerate of the other patients on the unit, and noise created by visitors may make it difficult for them to rest. Keep in mind that your friend may not be able to focus on you or even stay awake for a long visit, and that is perfectly ok. Friends and family members visiting patients with extended illnesses or lengthy hospital stays often bring knitting or other things to keep their hands busy while just sitting quietly. It is not necessary to engage her in conversation all the time; your presence itself is comforting.
When She Returns Home
Don’t forget your friend still needs you after discharge. If she has a family, they have likely pulled together to take care of her and each other during her hospitalization, and practical help would be a blessing to them. Once she has gone home, some ways to serve her as she continues to recuperate are:
Shopping. This is the single-most difficult task for someone recovering from an illness or injury. An offer to take a list from her and purchase what she needs may be greatly appreciated.
Cooking. Each meal provided by a thoughtful friend means one less evening she will have to be on her feet in the kitchen. Preparing meals that can be frozen for future use (for example, soups; moussaka; roasted meat) is always a good idea.
Child care. If your friend has small children, offering to take them on outings or watch them for a few hours so she can rest can be a real blessing to her. Caring for young children, while a joy, takes much energy and so taking them for a few hours will give her some much-needed rest.
When a woman has been hospitalized, her family feels her absence very keenly and will surely need this help. The compassion you demonstrate by visiting with her and making sure her needs are met after she goes home will encourage her tremendously, and help her to recover more quickly. Don’t forget that when you are assisting your friend, you are also serving the needs of her husband and children (if she has them) and being the “fragrance of Christ” (‘’’ 2 Corinthians 2:15) in this way.