Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Being Kind to the Sick

I haven't blogged much recently.  But when a couple of my Facebook friends shared the following links, I decided it was time.

The first link is to a blog that gives some excellent advice for those who know someone with a serious illness: Some Thoughts on How to Be a Friend to Someone With a Serious Illness.  I wholeheartedly endorse everything the blogger says.  Good intentions are not enough.  "I meant well" doesn't cut it.  Think before you speak.  Don't offer to help if you don't mean it.  And before you say "I'm praying for you", stop to think about the spiritual beliefs of the person you intend to say it to.  Go ahead and pray, but keep it to yourself unless you know the person you're speaking to will appreciate the gesture.

Link #2 is advice for saying the right thing: How not to say the wrong thing.
It covers some similar territory, but it's worth a read because it gives a clever concrete way to evaluate whether the thing you're thinking of saying is being said to the right person.  We all want to show sympathy by relating similar experiences we've had.  It's a natural behavior.  But it doesn't really help the person who's sick or in trouble.

Finally, I'd like to relate some advice of my own for those who are visiting a sick friend or relative in the hospital.  Anyone who's been in a hospital knows that they are awful places to be in.  A day or two isn't too bad, but if you're in the hospital more than 48 hours it's pretty miserable.  When you're in the hospital, you're not there to be comfortable.  You're there for medical treatment.  You're probably on some medication that may make you disoriented, drowsy, irritable, or nauseous.  You don't get good rest because hospital staff are waking you every hour to check your vitals.  You may be in pain or suffering symptoms of an illness, you may be connected to an IV or monitors that are unpleasant and annoying, you may not be able to get up and walk around or eat or go to the bathroom as you normally would.   You may not feel like having visitors.  

It's important to make sure the patient is really comfortable with having visitors before you pay the person a visit.  And don't just accept a "Yes" at face value if it's from your dad who never complains, or grandma who really loves to see the grandkids.  Dad or Grandma may not really feel up to visitors but be unwilling to say no.  Ask some additional questions to try to assess how the patient really feels before you accept a yes answer.

Even if the patient is feeling good and has no problem with visitors, don't take the whole family at once, or the whole team from work.  Hospital rooms are small.  If the crowd is too big everyone will get in each other's way and block the hospital personnel if they need access to the patient.  Most of the group won't get much time with the patient.  It's even more important to not take too many people if the hospital has non-private rooms.  You can have a crowd for a few minutes if the patient is up for it, but don't hang around.

Pay attention to the hospital rules.  If the sign on the bathroom door says "Patient only restroom", don't use it.  Don't leave your germs in there to endanger your friend or family member.  Don't hang around when visiting hours are over, even if the nurses don't tell you to leave.  Don't leave children unattended.  Hospitals are not playgrounds. In fact, I'd recommend not taking kids unless the patient you're going to visit is Mom or Dad.  Hospitals are kind of scary and creepy.  And don't stand around talking loudly about Grandma's surgery in the hallway or elevator.  Keep personal information private.  

My first stint of chemo, I had to be hospitalized for 5-7 days a month, and the oncology unit had several shared rooms.  One of my roommates had a group of family members who came to visit every day, four or five of them at once.  They seemed not to notice me.  Nothing separated my bed from their relative's bed but a flimsy curtain.  But they stayed for hours, used the patient-only bathroom, turned the tv on too loud, and were generally just horribly inconsiderate.  And most importantly, the patient wasn't getting anything out of their presence; she was on high doses of pain relievers and much of the time was either semi-conscious or so disoriented that she was unaware of who was with her.  Don't be that woman's family when you go to visit someone at the hospital.

I hope some of the advice is valuable to some people.  It's always hard to know what to do when someone is seriously ill or injured.  Be kind and caring, but be sure you're being kind to the person who's sick.  You can be kind to yourself some other time. And then when you're injured or seriously ill, which is almost certain to happen at some point in your life, your friends will be kind to you.

1 comment:

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