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I Hate Visiting Hospitals



"I am significantly uncomfortable when it comes to visiting someone in a hospital or hospice. Frankly, I do what I can to avoid going into one of those places. I’ve come up with some great excuses over time—anything from having a cold to experiencing a prolonged family crisis. They’ve all been lies.

I don’t know how to act in this setting. I don’t know what to say, either. I end up just sitting there and counting the minutes until I get to leave. How people visit the sick and dying is beyond me. I feel terrible about this, but not enough that it motivates me to change. Do you think it’s okay if I simply don’t visit?" - READER



Having worked as a nurse for many years, healthcare institutions are just buildings to me where people go to receive treatment and care. Of course, that’s only when they are in no way connected to me or my loved ones.

What I’m saying is that we are all a bit uncomfortable when the person in the bed is someone we know. When you walk into a hospital or hospice, you never know what you’re going to see. The person never looks great in a hospital gown, flat on their back, and possibly in pain. They may vomit, be confused, be unconscious, or worst of all—they made want your help when you feel completely unprepared to give it.

There are so many other questions, too. When do you visit, and how long do you stay? Do you bring a gift, or flowers? Can you touch the person? Where do you sit? There are so many ways in which you feel you can mess up and do the wrong thing. So sure, it would be easier to avoid a visit.

Or can you look at this another way? Think if it were you lying in that bed all day, with nothing but maybe the television to provide comfort and escape. It doesn’t have to be like that for your loved one.

Make a plan to pop in and say hello to your loved one for just a few minutes. There’s no need to camp out at the facility, because even a shorter visit will let them know you have not forgotten them. Based on their interests, bring the newspaper, a book, flowers, candy—anything small that could be a conversation starter.

If the patient is sleeping when you arrive, stay for a few minutes. Leave a nice note for them to read if they don’t wake before you go. You can follow up with a phone call later.

We all worry too much about saying or doing the wrong thing, and this creates all sorts of inaction. Just be polite to those around you and your loved one. It’s possible that you might say something a bit off, though that’s far less troublesome than your absence. And if you’re unsure how to help, ask the nurse who may have some ideas.

Regarding hospice specifically, you definitely should visit. It will be important for the both of you. Read to them, play music, tell stories, play cards, watch a movie, say a prayer or simply sit and hold hands. It will have a lasting impact, even if getting yourself there takes a bit of effort.

I wish I could tell you what you want to hear, but I can’t. Your presence will make a difference. So go, be with family and friends when they need you. The trip will be worth it.


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