Here he comes. You’ve all seen him. He is usually wearing a loud sport shirt, often a straw hat and flip flops. He is loud, boisterous and knows everything about everything. He also likes to tell you all about it as well.
No, he is not the doctor. He is a frequent visitor to hospitals to see his sick friends, and he often represents more harm than good insofar as the patient is concerned.
Actually, being a good visitor is not easy. The problem is that visiting the sick is a very important job and can make a major difference in how the patient recovers. Being attended by friends and relatives, who act appropriately, will go a long way to speeding recovery.
What do you need to know and how should you act? Of course, as in many other instances, the golden rule applies. Act the way you would want others to act.
Be caring but not prying. Asking how your friend or loved one is progressing is quite appropriate. Delving into the intricacies of his or her diagnosis or treatment is not, unless the patient wants the visitor to know all the details.
Be considerate of the patient’s privacy. Don’t go inspecting his or her operation site. Don’t insist on staying when the nurse needs to do something personal to the patient.
Don’t overstay your welcome. Observe visiting hours; they exist for a purpose, and the hospital staff does not want to be put into the position of being police and have to throw you out. Even if the patient is in a private room or place where there are no set visiting hours, that doesn’t mean you have the right nor need to be there all the time. Now, there are instances where this may not apply and where you may even stay overnight with the patient. But these privileges are usually reserved for the spouse, parent or child of the patient, not the friend or casual visitor.
Smoking is prohibited in virtually all hospitals. It also goes without saying that coming to the hospital sober is essential. You certainly don’t need a drink to work up the courage to visit the hospital. Yet I have seen just such a situation on several occasions. In fact, I have seen patients themselves report to the hospital obviously drunk. Not a pleasant site, believe me.
Above all, follow the hospital rules for visitors. Most hospitals will not allow children, under a certain age, to visit on some patient floors. This is for a very good reason. There are all sorts of illnesses that children may bring to the hospital with them that could make the patients more ill. They are often noisy and disruptive as well.
If the patient is well enough and with his doctor’s permission, perhaps he or she may see young visitors in the hospital lobby, or some other appropriate place.
Don’t sit on the patient’s bed or use the patient’s personal or toilet facilities. If there are not enough chairs in the room, ask the nursing staff for help. If you need to use bathroom facilities, use the public ones that are generally available. Remember the patient lives, eats, sleeps and does everything else in his hospital room. Don’t mess it up.
Someday the tables may be turned, and you may be the patient. You will want your privacy and also want your visitors to be considerate of your needs.
Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology. Write him at email@example.com.