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Sitting in my dad’s hospital room today, I found myself seeing things from the patient’s side. Thankfully, my father is much improved and we brought him home tonight.  But just one day in his hospital room taught me some valuable lessons about how a patient’s family feels and what they need.  Here are 5 rules that I wish had been posted in my dad’s room today.

  1. Remember the patient is sick.  That may seem obvious, but a number of people thought my dad was up for the latest joke, or lots of banter and good-humored joshing.  He put on a happy face, but was really very uncomfortable, needed to rest, and coughed violently when he got too talkative.
  2. Don’t sit down.  In other words, keep your visit brief, express your prayerful support, then leave.  A couple of people came in and stayed way too long today.  The patient needs to know you care, not visit with you for 30-minutes.
  3. Offer to help in real ways.  One lady offered to bake some cornbread my dad likes.  He appreciated that because it was something specific.  Others brought food to the house later.  Real help is something the patient wants and needs, not something we want to do for them. 
  4. Knock before entering.  At one point my dad wanted to change his pajamas and 3 people picked that moment to come into the room.  Fortunately, embarassment was averted, but knocking would have helped. If I am ever in doubt about whether to enter a room, I ask a nurse to check for me first.  Saves a lot of awkwardness later.
  5. Pray. Two pastoral care visitors came and went and neither offered a prayer.  I always offer to pray for the patient unless my judgment tells me otherwise.  Prayers should be brief, hopeful, and encouraging to both patient and family.  I was the only person who prayed for my dad in his room today.

Being on the receiving end of care reminds you of how sensitive we need to be about our conduct in pastoral care situations.  Crises provide an opportunity for us to represent God to others.  Don’t miss that chance.