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duke_univ_hospWith my almost 3-week hospital stay behind me, I realized there are several things I learned from the experience. Here are five of them:

1. People who are in the hospital are really sick.

You might think that would be obvious, but when I say sick, I mean really sick. With today’s cost-driven medical care, you’ve got to be really sick to be admitted, and really, really sick to stay for almost 3-weeks like I did. Recognizing the degree of a person’s illness should have a great deal to do with how we minister to those in the hospital.

2. Brief visits are good visits.

While I enjoyed seeing everyone who came to see me, when I was at my sickest the shorter the visit the more I appreciated it. There are several reasons for brief visits. First, the patient is really sick (see Item #1 above). Second, being really sick means your attention span, your strength, and your ability to carry on a conversation are all limited. Third, hospital patients often have to use the bathroom more frequently than others due to the nature of their illness and medications they might be receiving. Keeping your visit short avoids the embarrassment of their having to ask you to leave while they call for the nurse for assistance.

3. Privacy and Dignity Need to Be Preserved by Visitors.

I discovered that being in the hospital means that doctors and nurses ask you about bowel movements, urination, incontinence, and other personal body functions. Often they do this right in front of everyone in the room, assuming that its okay to ask any question with guests present. Visitors should help the patient preserve what little privacy and dignity they have left, by excusing themselves when the doctor enters the room, or the nurse comes in to check on the patient. By exhibiting sensitivity toward the patient’s privacy and dignity, guests will show respect for the patient.

4. Let Sleeping Patients Lie.

Believe it or not, hospital life is not conducive to sleep. Almost every night at 3 AM, a lab technician would come in to draw blood for lab tests. Of course, she had to turn on the overhead light, and I had to sit up for her to find an unused vein (they grew harder to find each day) from which to draw blood. So, if you come into a hospital room where the patient is asleep, write a note and then quietly leave. The patient will appreciate your visit and your thoughtfulness.

5. Offer specific ways you can help.

Offer specific ways you are able to help make the patient’s stay easier. While there we had people offer to take our dirty clothes home and wash them. Others brought us food, or drinks, and some offered to do so when we got home. Two men in our church installed a new shower head in our shower so I could shower seated. Others offered transportation, help with travel and parking expenses, and many assured us of their prayers. Saying, “I can’t do everything, but I can wash clothes. Can I take yours home and wash them and return them tomorrow,” is a great way of offering to do something specific.

Of course, I learned more than 5 things while in the hospital and maybe I’ll share some of those later. But for now, these are things that can enhance your hospital ministry whether you’re a pastor or concerned church member. I’m also interested in what you’ve learned from your experience being hospitalized. What things would you add to this list. Put them in the comments, and I’ll add them in a later post. Thanks, and it’s good to be home again!