Hospital Visitor Etiquette

My daughter was born after 48 hours in the hospital. By the next afternoon it had been close to three days without any sleep better than a short nap. Exhaustion isn’t strong enough of a word.

An opportunity came up for my parents to go out to dinner while Russ went with friends to see a movie. My Dad plastered the door with a sign begging, “Do Not Disturb.” He even asked the nurses to see to it that I got some sleep.

I was desperate enough to allow my newborn to visit the nursery (something I swore I’d never do) just to get two hours of rest.

My family hadn’t been out of the hospital for more than ten minutes when I heard a knock on the door. I turned toward the sound as a woman from church popped her head in.

Pointing at the sign, she confidently exclaimed, “I didn’t think this meant me!” She stayed for an hour.

Moments after she left they brought Rachel in to be nursed. As soon as she was done, my family returned and my plans of rest were thwarted.

Thankfully, I was released the next day to go home and rest.

Hospitals are a poor place to socialize. Even when it’s to welcome a newborn, there is a reason that patients are there and in bed.

To be sure, many folks want to know they are cared for, but unless you received a phone call asking you to come sit for the day, keep your visit brief.

Here are some ways you can be a comforting visitor:

1.Stay no more than ten minutes. Remember, they are there to rest and seek healing. Five minutes is often enough, so be sensitive.


2.Don’t offer medical advice. Even if you have had the same ailment, you are not their healthcare provider. If the patient or family has a concern, encourage them to ask their nurse.


3.Don’t ask for details. If the patient wants you to know the results of their tests, they will offer it.

4.This is not the time for stories or opinions. Don’t discuss your disdain for the healthcare facility or physician. Adding stress to an already difficult situation is not helpful. Keep the story of your own surgery to yourself.

5.Step out when a doctor arrives. You can either excuse yourself to leave at this time or at the very least step out of the room, out of earshot, to lend privacy. When a nurse comes in, offer to step out.

6.If they are sleeping or have a “Do Not Disturb” sign, ask the nurse where you can leave them a note. Sleep is vital to healing and it’s already hard enough to rest with all that needs to be done.

7.If the patient is in the ICU, plan on visiting the family in the waiting room. If you are invited back to see the patient, observe a strict five-minute rule.

8.The Emergency Room is a poor place to visit. When/if the patient is admitted to the hospital is when it is the appropriate time for a visit. Remember, ER rooms are treatment rooms. It would be like having visitors at the doctor’s office. There is very little privacy for other patients as well. If you feel the need to be of support, stay in the waiting room.

We spent several years of frequent trips to the hospital with our youngest child. We never got used to it and would have loved to have had a visitor or two.

Even if you know someone has a chronic illness, don’t assume that they don’t need a visit. If it is on your heart at all, please stop by for a few minutes and brighten their day.
The Sutherlin Girls Choir saved my sanity one year by singing Christmas carols in the hallway. Six years later and I am still so very grateful.

Next week I’ll share some practical ways to minister to those in the hospital: actions that will comfort far beyond words.


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