Don’t give unwanted advice when you visit the sick

  • Through Many Windows
  • Sunday, 08 Dec 2019

GENERALLY, it is therapeutic to have well-meaning friends visit you when you are hospitalised, especially those who simply have a positive vibration about them.

Hospital stays may range from scary, lonely, boring, depressing to restful, depending on many factors.

Of course, as a patient (depending on what your medical issue is) there may be times when you would rather not have anyone around except the very essential ones.

Recuperative periods are very personal and sensitive – different patients may have different needs. So, whether or not to visit your friend or someone in the hospital is a very tricky decision to make. It is probably best to check first before your kindness becomes an unwelcome imposition.

Sometimes the person you are visiting is not your personal friend but an acquaintance from a common organisation or a co-worker. If you do take photos with the patient, you may want to seek his permission before you post it on your facebook or whatsapp group. The patient may not want the whole world or those who are not related to him to know of his medical condition. The patient may also want to avoid having to answer to numerous repetitious and unhelpful questions like “what happened to you?”.

Before you want to visit a patient probably it is important to ask yourself why you want to do so. I think this matter to the patient too and sometimes this may affect the well being of the patient.

Are you visiting the patient because you actually care or that you need to show some other audience that you care?

The latter reason can be hurtful to the patient and if it is followed by publication of your visit to the patient without his consent, the patient would feel that you have used his misfortune to promote yourself. That would be a very insensitive thing to do.

What do you do once you are at the hospital? If the patient is asleep or inconvenienced, leave a message with the nurse and go home. Whatever it is do not wake him up unless you have extremely special reasons to do so.

The nature of conversation will also depend on your relationship and closeness with the patient. Moderate words of encouragement, if appropriate may help, but overdose of encouragement may frighten or disconcert the patient. I know it is tempting but my personal tendency is not to delve too deeply into the patient’s ailments (unless you have the miracle cure for his suffering).

Visitors must remember that the top most priority is not the satisfaction of your curiosity but the patient’s mental state due to your presence there. Is your presence helping him or stressing him? He is already unwell so do not keep reminding of what got him into the hospital in the first place. As you should have guessed, many visitors before you would have un-creatively asked him the same questions.

So, if you are one of those who think the world exists to satisfy your every curiosity, then the best thing is for you to not visit the patient. You are not there for the patient anyway but just for your selfish curiosity – so stay away.

Then there is the – unwittingly or not –“I-told-you-so” type of visitors.

these are the kind who will uninvitingly say things like “You should not have smoked”, or “You should have taken care of your diet”, or “You work too much, money is not everything”, or ‘You should have been more careful”, and so on.

You really have to wonder what their intentions are for making you feel that you had meticulously and carefully planned your unfortunate ailment that landed you in hospital. You also wonder when they became expert nutritionists and masters of well-being!

When you are hospitalised, the last thing you want is to hear advice from a non-expert or someone who does not have your health experience. I think it is probably an Asian thing to be an “expert” in everything else except in your own area.

It is different if you hear the experience of someone else who has had the same ailment or health issue as you. Such testimonies can help the patient cope with his medical condition, especially if it is his first time. On this point, I think hospitals may want to arrange patients to meet other patients with similar experiences on request, if possible, with the view for psychological support.

Having said all the above, I believe that generally, it is a kind and compassionate gesture to visit the sick at the hospital. It gives them strength and hope. We just need to be more sensitive to the patient’s needs.

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