Visiting the ill–101

Visiting the ill–101

It is 4:53 p.m. and you are in the bathroom with your head in the toilet. After eating that wonderful lunch at the Japanese restaurant you think you may have food poisoning. This is the third time you have wrenched your guts out in the past fifteen minutes. Life is horrible right now. At this moment you don’t care about that breaking news from the White House. You don’t care that you got a bonus check in the mail from work. You don’t care that it is your anniversary. Right now your whole world is focused on your head being in the toilet. This would not be a good time to try and entertain your friendly and happy-go-lucky neighbor, or get a lecture from your spouse about the perils of eating raw fish.

As unsocial as anyone of us would be in the above situation, so typically are people who have chronic illness or a chronic injury. Generally, the more “wounded” a person is, the less able they are to connect socially with others. As such, I would like to suggest some DO’S and DON’TS when dealing with the “wounded”:

DO express your love and concern for them. People choose to do this in different ways.

  • You can verbalizeyour feelings via a visit, card/letter, phone or Skype call.
  • You can provide touchif it is appropriate and welcomed.
  • An act of kindnessthrough volunteering to clean their house, mow their lawn, go grocery shopping, or other needed chores.
  • Giving a giftof flowers, CD, book, or something else meaningful and appropriate. But DON’T expect a return response (i.e., a “thank you”) especially if the patient (or family members) is getting a lot of“gifts”.
  • Make sure they know you are available as needed with your quality time.
  • Be there for them emotionally. So often the emotional needs are huge but overlooked by the physical needs.
  • Take time to learnabout their illness or injury. There may be no better way to support them in their illness or injury than to learn about it. BUT don’t give adviceunless asked. This can be horribly frustrating for the patient.


DON’T project your own feelings upon them.

  • For example, if they are dying and you are afraid of dying, don’t assume they too will have the same fear. Perhaps they are tired of the pain and suffering and look forward to a “long rest”.
  • If you know you would either want, or not want, visitors if you were sick in bed…don’t presumeyou know what they would want.
  • If you were ill, you may think you would want lots of big hugs from friends and family, but they may not want to be touched. This could be for a multitude of reasons including pain and overstimulation.
  • You love chocolate-chip cookies; but they may have lost their appetite or taste. With certain medications some of their favorites like chocolate may taste horrible…don’t become offended or hurt.
  • You may think you would love to have visitors every day and all day. However, their energy may be spent after 15 minutes. In fact the 15 -30 minute visiting rule is a pretty good one. Remember that 15 minutes with say, ten visitors throughout the day, adds up to not much rest for healing time. This says nothing about all the hospital personnel who “pester” the patient throughout the day and night.
  • If you are an extrovert who flourishes being around people, remember that they may be an introvert whose “emotional battery” draws down very quickly when around others—even those they love.
  • Unless asked, don’t fill up time talking about yourself. Ask them questions such as: Are you hanging in there okay?; What symptoms are you dealing with today?; Are you feeling supported emotionally, physically, and spiritually?
  • They may not want to talk about their pain & illness, but give them the opportunity. If they don’t, give them room to talk about whatever they need to talk about.



  • As a “visitor” you may feel like you are in a Catch-22 due to the sensitivity of the situation. For example: trying to get involved might be experienced as being overbearing and pushy. Conversely, wanting to give them space may be experienced as not caring. You may feel like you can’t win! That is okay, just be patient and flexible in your love.
  • Yes, we can mess up, but that typically happens when we make us rather than them the focus – when we are focused on our own feelings, experiences, and projections. The task is to focus on THEM.

Yes, we can make our loved ones worse with our “love”…or we can be a great aid to their healing. Practice leads to perfection.

Tim Berry

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