The 16 dos and don'ts of hospital visits

Danielle Heyns , who has spent more time than she would have liked visiting loved ones in people in hospital recently, looks at the dos and don'ts of hospital visits.

1. Make sure you're visiting at a convenient time. Check with the patient or immediate family. Respect visiting hours and mealtimes. Never show up on the day your friend has had surgery, or when someone's about to go in labour. New parents reserve the right to dictate when visitors are allowed.

2. If someone's curtains are drawn, make yourself known first. Doctors and nurses are bound to interrupt, so make room for them. Wait outside if it's going to be awkward for the patient.

3. Wash your hands before you visit. Wash them well. Wash them again if you've touched a telephone, TV remote or even a door handle. Germs stick around and infections happen, especially when someone's resistance is down.

4. Stay away altogether when you're sick.

5. You know who gets sick a lot? Kids. And they're noisy and boisterous - not ideal for hospital visits, so best they stay home. By all means take them to take them to see a nana or poppa in hospital if it will make the patient feel better, but keep it short and sweet. A bunch of kids making a racket in the waiting room while you visit with the patient isn't ideal either. People are trying to sleep and medical staff are trying to do their job.

6. Keep your voice down. Don't be that schmuck conducting business on his cellphone in the corridor. Everyone hates that guy. Keep your phone on silent: people are trying to sleep.

7. Don't smoke before visits - everyone can smell it on you. "Old" smoke clings to clothes too, so wash them regularly.

8. If you're a fainter, make sure you've got water on you and there's a chair to steady you.

9. Hospital wards are intimate places - don't discuss personal affairs the patient would prefer you kept quiet, and don't drone on and on about your own life.

10. Some patients like you to stay by their side, sitting silently in a chair, others appreciate short visits. Maybe your relative or friend wants you to read to them, or rub their feet. Take your queue from the relationship you have and from their tone and body language. Don't feel you have to fill the silence with noise.

11. Don't stay away because you're afraid of hospitals.

12. The person you are visiting is more afraid being in one.

13. Ask before taking flowers. Someone else on the ward might have allergies, or flowers might not be allowed on the ward because they carry bugs. If the patient is in isolation, chances are flowers aren't allowed. The patient may have special dietary needs now - check before taking chocolates or other treats. Cards are always appreciated, and can be put away in a drawer if things get cluttered. Word to the wise: medical staff and cleaners tend to frown on clutter. Germs, dust and all that. A visit is usually enough of a gift.

14. If you're a distant a relative or acquaintance, now is not an appropriate time to try and build a relationship. There's nothing sadder than distant family members suddenly showing up when a bachelor uncle is terminally ill and very rich, yet it happens all the time. Everyone sees that, especially if you're camping out in the waiting room.

15. If you were close but the relationship is strained, don't try and bring up the issue now - wait till they're better, unless they bring it up.

16. Hospitals can be lonely places and your visit is probably much anticipated and appreciated, but always use your discretion. Keep the golden rule in mind: if you were feeling ill, tired and sleepy, how would you like to be treated?

Waikato Times