How can families/friends better coordinate visits?
1. Honor the visitation hours and policies, especially in the Intensive Care Units (ICU's). Visits should be staggered and not exhaust the patient. There are good reasons for limiting the number of people in the patient's room at any one time.
2. Ask the assigned advocate to manage the flow of visitors. Have visitors contact the advocate ahead of time and determine the best time to visit. Patients get tired, even when there is not a lot of activity. So do family members who have to answer questions over and over again.
3. Find out when nursing shifts change and procedures are scheduled and avoid these hours. Some hospitals/units even disallow visitors during these vulnerable periods of time.
What top things can families or visitors do to make the jobs of hospital caregivers and professionals easier?
1. Offer to assist the nursing staff. There is a tremendous shortage of nurses that is only going to get worse as "baby boomer" nurses continue to retire and fail to be replaced. Many things can be done by a visitor to assist the nurse such as securing bedding, running errands for the staff or patient, filling water pitchers, assisting with patient food intake, notifying the nurse when alarms sound (do NOT touch the equipment!), securing supplies, etc.
2. Give the family members a break! They get tired and crabby, too, making the nurse's job harder to handle. Do not step into this role without learning what needs to be done or attended to while you are taking the family member's place if they are operating as the advocate.
3. Learn to speak "hospital" speak, even just a little. Machines have names. So do nurses. Doors will open-with the doctors, with the staff and with the patient, who will want to understand what is happening or what has happened to him or her. Calling people and things by their right name supports speedy and compassionate care.
Any other visiting dos and don'ts?
1. Take care of yourself. You are of no value to a family member or friend if you go down for the count. Sacrificing your own health for another is not what anyone who loves us would want us to do. Drink lost of water before and after your visit.
2. Manage your own stress, about the patient as well as about your personal fear of hospitals, disease and death. If you can't, don't visit. World-renown shaman, Sandra Ingerman, says that "All healing is done by creating space from the heart. Anxiety occurs when you are in a state separate from spirit. If you can't get emotionally detached, you can't let spirit through." This cannot be done when you are operating out of or spilling fear.
Don't stop visiting hospitalized patients! They need our support. Just do so in a thoughtful and compassionate way. Robert Hénri said in his wonderful book, The Art Spirit, written in 1923, "Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway."