Over the past month I have been very unwell in hospital after a big surgery. I have been so lucky to have lots of friends supporting me. So I thought I would write about how you can help when visiting a friend or loved one who is in hospital.
It can be really hard when someone you care about is in hospital. When you just want to help, but you aren’t sure what to do. So here is my list, please feel free to leave a comment if there is anything you would add.
I started a WhatsApp group message before I went into hospital with some of my nearest and dearest. This was so that my husband just had one message to send after my op to let people know how I was doing. I knew there were a few different people who would want to know and this made it easier for Timm. We added friends and family members who have told me it was good to have one place to check for updates.
It can be difficult to know when and if you should visit. For me, the first week after my surgery this time, I really didn’t want to see anyone apart from my husband. I felt extremely vulnerable and emotional and I just couldn’t bear the thought of visitors. I was falling asleep all the time and in a lot of pain. There were tubes everywhere and I really didn’t want to see anyone. And I really appreciated that my friends and family respected this. And when I felt up to it, I let them know through the WhatsApp group.
Check the visiting hours, in Sheffield visiting is open 8am – 8pm. For me this was great as it meant my husband could come in the morning and help me with getting washed. It’s worth checking with the patient or their closest person if there are specific times that would be best. My husband loves a spreadsheet and would let my friends and family know when to come. This meant no one would clash, or come at the same time as my kids and have a wasted journey.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by visits. Be aware of how long you stay. About half an hour was my limit before I was really tired. Listen to the patient. I felt bad that people had made the effort to come to see me and so it was great when my visitors saw me flagging and left me to rest. Another friend brought her kindle and said to me “if you are tired, then rest your eyes and don’t worry about me, Ill be here when you wake up” and that was great!
What can you do?
Ask if there is anything practical you can do. My friend Hannah visited me and helped me have a bath. I had mentioned that I felt upset that my hair was dirty and I was worried that it smelled. I have been friends with Hannah for nearly 30 years and she is a nurse. So I felt comfortable with her seeing me naked and helping me bathe. It was amazing!
My friend Tania came and massaged my arms and hands. This was so lovely. I realised that you don’t really get touched in hospital apart from for medical reasons. So the touch of someone else with love and care was actually quite emotional.
Ask if the patient is eating or drinking. I had visitors bring me biscuits and chocolate but I wasn’t allowed to eat! It was fine as I sent them home for my kids who were thrilled but I did feel a bit bad when they brought them in and realised I couldn’t eat!
I got some lovely cards and gifts too. This was so kind and thoughtful and I greatly appreciated them. But I also had visitors apologising for turning up empty handed and had to tell them that I didn’t need anything! It was just great to have them visit.
Remember that most hospitals do not allow flowers so don’t waste your money. I think the biggest thing is to just ask if the patient needs anything. There were days when I needed or wanted specific things; ice pops, menstrual pads, certain drinks and it was very much appreciated!
Are you a risk?
Don’t visit anyone in hospital if you are unwell. If you have a cough or cold or sickness and diarrhoea, do not put the patient at risk! Also if you have kids who are unwell, it is worth you not visiting incase you are carrying a bug.
In general, I would always say that other people’s kids shouldn’t visit hospitals unless confirmed with the patient and the ward that they are allowed.
Always wash your hands and use the antibacterial liquids around the hospital before having any contact with the patient.
DO YOU SMELL?
This might be a weird one, but my sense of smell was really heightened when I was in hospital. So when visiting, be aware of things like heavy perfumes or aftershaves. Also if you are a smoker, avoid smoking just before visiting. I have heard from other people that it is an issue for them too.
EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL STATES
Be aware that lots of people can act and feel very different to how they are normally when in hospital, especially if they have been in for a while or are on strong painkillers and medication. Patients can feel great the first day after surgery, but can struggle on day 3 and 4. Strong medications can really affect people and make them confused, upset and not themselves. This time I had an incredibly tough time, I cried a lot and felt extremely down. I know it was upsetting for my visitors to see me in tears.
I also felt quite confused. This was a mix of painkillers and also I really believe that ward life really adds to confusion. There were many days when I didn’t know what the day or date was. I am going to write a whole blog about this as I think it is something we don’t really talk about. I felt like I was losing my mind some days. But 3 weeks just staring at the same walls, have no windows, little sleep, lots of drugs and being scared and in pain can really affect your mental and emotional health.
YOUR VISIT CAN IMPROVE THEIR OUTCOME
Emotions have a powerful effect on a patient’s health. Having a positive outlook, using mindfulness and having a strong mind/body connection is said to improve outcomes. Studies have been done that say that a positive visit to someone in hospital can also improve the patient’s outcome, reduce pain and improve mental and emotional health.
According to the thesis Impact of Family Presence in the Healthcare Setting “Positive patient outcomes include accelerated recovery time, increased reports of comfort, and decreased duration of hospital stay. Research shows that patient outcomes are impacted greatly by family presence.”
So know that you making the effort to come and visit someone in hospital is not only a kind and caring thing to do and will make your friend or family member smile, you also could be helping them get better.
Speaking of smiling, don’t be afraid to make jokes and laugh. I knew how poorly I was and there were times that I needed a quiet visit. But a lot of the time it was nice to joke and laugh. My husband and friends made terrible jokes, laughed at dark things (just ask Timm about the doctor sticking his big fat finger in my stoma and telling us it was very tight). Laughter does help!
IF YOU CAN’T VISIT
Sometimes it is impossible for you to visit and that sucks. Maybe you live far away? My sister lives in Australia and my sister in law lives in Lanzarote and I know it was really tough on them. They felt like they couldn’t do anything to help. Or maybe you are unwell, or have a compromised immune system and coming into hospital is a no go.
The messages and phone calls I got whilst in hospital meant the world. I loved being able to chat to people by text or facetime and it was as lovely as a visit in real life. Though it was hard at first because I was so poorly I couldn’t manage to be on my phone. Once I was feeling better though, it was great to catch up. Especially with my sister, due to the time difference, she was my night shift!
Technology is your friend in these situations. I think messaging is great as it gives the patient time and the ability to not reply if they don’t feel up to it right at that moment. Just don’t get offended if they don’t reply right away!
DON’T FORGET THE FAMILY
One of the greatest things my friends and family did whilst I was in the hospital was to think about not just me but about my husband and kids too. From taking the kids out, cleaning the house, sending gifts to driving the kids about and just chatting to them all and asking how they are doing. It meant so much to know that they were being looked after too.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any hints or tips for visiting people in hospital.
Peace and love