Hospital Visits: 5 Rules You Don’t Know About

A hospital gurney( — When visiting a friend or family member in the hospital, there are many things to keep in mind prior to, during, and after your visit.

These guidelines are important both for your safety, as well as that of the individual you are visiting. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some important aspects of a hospital visit that may be self-evident, but are often overlooked or forgotten.

1. Don’t Visit If You Have An Acute Illness and/or A Fever

If planning a visit to the hospital, do not go through with your plans if you have a cold, are recovering from an acute illness and still have symptoms, or if you have a fever. In terms of fevers, you should consider yourself infectious for 24 hours following the end of the fever. This applies to children and adults, since fevers can be infectious for 24 hours after symptoms have subsided and your temperature has returned to normal.

2. Observe Necessary Precautions

Due to the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant organisms and patients with compromised immune systems, some visitors will be required to wear gloves, gowns, or possibly surgical masks prior to entering a patient’s room. This is often for the protection of everyone concerned, including patient and visitor. Some patients are infected with MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be quite dangerous for visitors, therefore protection for visitors against respiratory secretions and bodily fluids can be extremely important.

As a rule, make sure to be healthy when you go to the hospital to visit a sick friend or family member, and use hand sanitizer or soap and water before entering the room, when leaving the room, and any time you come and go. Most facilities now have numerous wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers, making it easy to remember to keep your hands clean. Remember that if you rub your nose or touch your eyes or mouth, you should wash your hands again in order to keep bacteria at bay.

Also, prior to entering a patient’s room, check the door for special visitor instructions, or stop by the nurses’ station when you arrive to the floor. If a patient has cancer, is undergoing chemotherapy, or has had a bone marrow transplant, for instance, such precautions are incredibly important for their protection.

3. Ask about Restrictions on Gifts and Flowers

Compromised immune systems and immune disorders are rampant these days, so it’s best to call ahead and ask if flowers, plants or food are allowed before bringing such items to a patient. For some conditions, the potential for spores and other organisms on fruits and plants can be very dangerous, so it’s good to know before you go. Also, some patients are on special diets while hospitalized, so bringing chocolates or sweets might be temptations that just make the patient feel deprived because they can’t have them. Remember to call the nursing station of the floor where your loved one is staying before you visit, and ask if there are any restrictions in terms of gifts, food and plants.

4. Help the Weary Get the Rest They Need

Even though people are hospitalized so that they can get better, hospitals are often the least restful places of all for those who are ill. And though visits and phone calls can provide sorely needed company, socialization and distraction from the monotony of hospitalization, patients also need time to do nothing. When visiting, monitor the energy level of the patient, and be sensitive to whether he or she may need a few moments of rest to close their eyes, or just relax in your presence. The patient may feel the need to “entertain” you, so reassure them that you don’t need to be entertained, and they can feel free to close their eyes, take a nap, or just watch TV with you.

When someone is in the hospital, we often say, “Let me know if you need anything.” While this may be helpful, the offer may seem somewhat rote, and the patient may perceive it as well meaning or simply polite. Instead, try saying “What would you like me bring you or do for you? Is there anything you need from home/a favorite restaurant/a local store that I can get for you?”

Be specific in what you are offering, and if they decline, probe further to see if they’re just being polite or shy. Chances are, if you persist, they may eventually think of something that would really brighten their day. If they have no dietary restrictions while hospitalized, a favorite food or snack can be enormously helpful for their morale, so keep in mind that even the smallest thing can make any day be infinitely better, especially if all they have been eating is hospital food!

5. Just Be, But Do It with Sensitivity

Although bringing gifts, flowers or food are wonderful boons to the spirit of the hospitalized person, your presence is what truly makes the difference. While you may not want to arrive empty-handed for a visit, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to your demeanor and your ability to be a compassionate presence, even in the face of terminal illness. Keep in mind that hospital patients are not necessarily looking for sympathy, nor are they always looking for entertainment and jokes. Be sensitive, be aware, be tuned in, and offer what seems like the most appropriate energy for the circumstances.

Some hospitalized individuals may be facing life-threatening situations and would rather not receive visitors who joke, make small talk, and seem to completely avoid the subject at hand. Conversely, some people in the hospital would like nothing better than to talk about anything but their illness—baseball, movies, TV shows and the latest political scandal. Don’t impose what you think they may want to talk about or do. Listen closely, ask questions, be sensitive, and tailor the energy of your visit to the needs of your loved one. They will be grateful, and you will feel like you’ve really done something useful and kind for someone feeling vulnerable and alone.