How to visit a sick friend?

A friend entertaining a patient at the hospital as the husband looks on

A friend has been admitted to the hospital, and you would really like to pay him or her a visit.

What should you say and do? What might you bring? What would be especially helpful? And are there things you should avoid saying or doing?

You want your visit to be worthwhile, not just a “Hello,” an awkward “How are you?” then a quick “Goodbye,” with perhaps a “Get well soon” thrown in for good measure.

 So how do you go about it?

An initial word of advice


Use discretion concerning the timing of your visit.

You could ask the patient or her family what would be the best time, such as when she will not be occupied with other visitors or close relatives.

It is probably better to visit the evening before an operation when the patient can benefit from some cheerful, distracting conversation rather than right after surgery, when she may be groggy or in pain.

Cheerful conversation


We might consider the phrase ‘cheerful conversation.’ Expect to take the initiative during the visit, and keep the conversation reasonably upbeat.

The person in the hospital bed should not have to concern herself with being the good host to you. You can assume that burden with an easy-going manner and friendly outlook.

Now, what to say, what not to say? Do not come with a gloomy or solemn face, even if it seems that the patient’s condition is not good.

So, remember, it is your responsibility to keep the conversation encouraging and pleasant.

The latest news from the patient’s family might be interesting and up building, especially if you have good news.

Also, do not forget the effect that some humor has on healing; look for opportunities to make the patient smile or laugh. Balance is imperative here.

You are visiting not to be a joker but to express genuine concern and sympathy.

The patient also needs confidence. Thus, be careful not to speak negatively about the doctor or the hospital.

It is usually best not to compare the patient’s condition or problem with something you may personally have had or with others who had a similar problem, unless the outcome was a happy one.

Everyone is different, and each patient’s situation is a unique one.

A final observation about your conversation:

Have you had the trying, tiring experience of being with someone whose words come out like machine-gun bullets, like the torrents of water roaring over Iguaçú Falls? It wore you out, did it not?" 

So please do not be that way when visiting your hospitalized friend or relative.

While you're speaking should be happy and encouraging, control its quantity and pace. There is no need to feel nervous, as if you must fill every second with words.

Some quiet time together can also be comforting. Yes, take care that you do not contribute to the patient’s exhaustion by an endless stream of visitors forcing on her an even more endless stream of words.

Visit for How Long?


In certain parts of the world, a family virtually lives in the hospital with the patient.

They may be expected to care for bathing the person and provide food, so such a visit may have to be extended.

But in most hospitals, visiting hours are limited so that the patient is not overtaxed and the hospital staff can perform their duties.

Thus, in most cases your visit should last no more than an hour if you are a relative or a very close friend of the patient, and a half hour if you are simply an acquaintance.

What if the patient asks you to stay longer?

It still may be good to limit your visit, for he may be tired and have clouded judgment.

Of course, you must use your own discretion, but the main point is, do not overstay your welcome.

That advice needs special emphasis if the patient already seems to have more visitors than are good for him or for the hospital routine.

Actually, your making several short visits is preferable and shows your concern more than a single long one.

Remember, too, the need for tact if the patient has relatives who seem perhaps somewhat antagonistic or even resentful of your presence.

What things could you bring?


Even before you set out for your visit, another sort of advance preparation will help.

Is there something useful that you can bring? How about something new to read?

Maybe that very day you received in the mail your latest issue of a magazine that the patient also enjoys.

The patient might be touched by your willingness to share your treasured new issue. You could even offer to read to him an article or two that you found especially interesting.

A small remembrance like flowers or fruit might brighten the day. Another pick-me-up might be the patient’s favorite candy or even some homemade food—if that is allowed.

You could check with the family about such food items or ask the nurses before even bringing it into the room.

You may also ask the doctor or the nurses whether there is anything else that you can bring to the patient or that you can do for him that will ease their load or make him more comfortable. They may welcome your assistance.

Do you want to help in other ways? 


Ask the patient about small practical matters.

Who is taking in or bringing him his mail?

Could you offer to check on his house or apartment, maybe even having some friends help you clean it before the patient returns home?

Does someone need to shovel snow off the sidewalk, water the plants, or take steps so the house has a lived-in appearance and thus does not attract burglars?

Is he worried about the care of a pet? These and other things may be on the patient’s mind but would not come out in the open unless you asked.

Your kind inquiries will also be helpful in the sense of emphasizing that you really do care.

A word is in order about proper decorum while visiting the hospital.

Strange as it may seem, the way you dress and act can affect the way the patient is treated by hospital personnel.

They may be quite impressed if they notice a patient receiving visitors who are well-groomed.

When several such dignified visitors are observed inquiring after the well-being of the patient, the staff may conclude that this patient must be a respected person, which, of course, he is.

If There Is a Serious Problem


Occasionally, the patient you are visiting may be having a serious problem in communicating with the hospital staff.

A good question to have ready, without invading the patient’s privacy, is, “How does the doctor think you are doing?”

If things are not going well, and you are the responsible family member, maybe you can provide help.

For the patient’s well-being, you may need to take the initiative to get more information from hospital personnel.

Or perhaps you could offer to accompany the family, who for some reason may be reluctant to speak with the doctor.

When this is the case, the main thing to keep in mind is not to be intimidated by the hospital setting or personnel.

The patient may even be in an intensive-care unit, surrounded by all manner of machines and very sick people. The staff may seem very busy or perhaps brusque.

The tendency is to be fearful of interrupting them, let alone saying anything that could seem like a challenge.

But if you are rightly the patient’s advocate, you (and he) deserve clear answers and alternatives.

You should not be dissuaded until your task is accomplished.

While taking care not to be a nuisance, sometimes is necessary to keep asking to get the care or information to which one has a right.

Looking Back on Your Visit


After you complete your visit, leaving on a cheerful note, you can review what you said and did.

Such reflection may help you to discern how your next visit, to this patient or to another, can be even more effective and satisfying.

All in all, there is a lot you can accomplish with a hospital visit. Keep in mind the most important things are good preparation and a desire to be of help, the rest will come naturally.

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