So You’re In The Hospital (Considerations for Effective Hospital Visitation)

As a Pastor of Pastoral Care, I spend quite a few hours in the hospital. To be honest, I don’t mind this aspect of ministry. I’ve seen God do great things in and through people while they’re hospitalized. I’ve witnessed people and families rejoice over improved health and I’ve seen the devastation when health makes a turn for the worse. I’ve seen numerous instances of renewed faith as people walk through illness. I’ve see the gospel shared countless times. And on the lighter side, I’ve also seen the backside of way too many hospital gowns.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned in order to make hospital visits more effective.

  1. Consider Your Location – This may be obvious to everyone, but I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve walked into the wrong hospital, only to find out they’re in the one across town. This happens mostly because I assume their location. Sometimes, it’s because of misinformation. My assistant at the church knows this and will often text me the hospital name and room number, even after I’ve inquired about the patient’s whereabouts. For this, I’m very thankful. Do yourself a favor a sure up your destination before you leave.
  2. Consider Your Health – Fortunately for me, I rarely get sick or ill. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a time where I was personally ill and could not visit the hospital. However, I’ve been with my sick children on a few occasions where I felt I carried the potential of bringing a bug into the hospital. In those instances, just call. Each time I’ve explained my circumstances, the hospitalized individual always seems appreciative that I’m not bringing a potential setback for them into the room.
  3. Consider Your Hands – Keep clean hands. I’ve made it a habit to wash or sterilize my hands when I enter and leave the hospital. I also like to sterilize my hands when I enter a patient’s room. I’m not a germ-a-fobe, i rarely get sick, but like I said above, I certainly don’t won’t to prolong anyone’s stay because of an illness I might bring in with me. Secondly, I clean my hands in their room because it communicates concern for their health. As a matter of fact, I rarely touch the patient, unless they make a motion towards such. I do this because I don’t want to cause the patient pain. I don’t know what parts of their body are uncomfortable or hurting. (In my undergraduate studies, my pastoral ministry professor told a story about a deacon touching a cancer patient’s foot, causing severe pain for the ill woman. This story has stuck with me for over 20 years. The last thing I want to do is make someone physically uncomfortable with a visit.)
  4. Consider Your Time – The remaining items on this list all have bearing on time.  I’ve made hospital visits that lasted only a few seconds and I’ve had others where I’ve sat with the patient over two hours. That being said, long hospital visits should not be the norm. This is one of the most common mistakes I witness in hospital visitation. I’ve seen many people sit in the patient’s room for hours at a time. I understand the thought process behind it, they’re there to help pass the time. The old folks call it “sitting”. The intention  behind their lengthy visit is loving, but it may not necessarily be the best for those who are sick. As a good rule, hospital visits should last no longer than 15 minutes.
  5. Consider The Patient – This consideration has more influence upon my length of stay than any other. If a patient is in great physical discomfort or seems exhausted, my stays are brief. If I’m visiting a newborn and the baby is fussy, I make my stays brief because I know that Mama wants to take care of her little one more than she wants to socialize with her pastor. Look for the patient’s comfort level when entering the room. If you know the reason for their stay, this may also cue you in on an appropriate length of stay. There have been times where I’ve literally walked into a room, saw that the patient was extremely uncomfortable and said, “I just dropped by to tell you that you’re loved. I’m going to pray for you out in the hall.”
  6. Consider The Medical Staff – Be considerate of the medical staff. If they’re taking vitals and just performing a routine patient check, I usually remain. (Unless I’ve been there about 15 minutes, then I often use this a time to transition away from the room.) However, if a Doctor or nurse is performing something more personal, I usually exit and let the patient have privacy.
  7. Consider Your Non-Verbal Communication – During your visit, consciously consider what you are communicating with your non-verbal communication. I usually sit (unless the room is really crowded, or sitting blocks the line of sight) and try to seem relaxed. This is especially helpful, if you’re under personal time constraints yourself. Even though you may enter a room knowing that you have only a few minutes to stay, sit like you have no where to go. It communicates their importance and your care.
  8. Consider Your Prayer – Always pray with the patient. There have been instances where I couldn’t, but we should always strive to do so. Sometimes I ask how the patient would like me to pray. This can be quite uncomfortable to be honest. I will never forget the first time the patient requested that I pray for them to leave this life so their suffering could end and they could be healed in Jesus’ presence. In my prayers, I like to highlight the compassion and omnipotence of God. These seem to be two aspects of God’s character that bring hope in times of uncertainty or suffering.