Your Health
By Michael Warren

No one enjoys being sick or hospitalized. You’re feeling awful, in a strange environment, often sharing a room with a stranger who snores, and the TV doesn’t even carry your favorite channel. Your family may feel helpless, too. How can they help your recovery?

They should talk to your doctor or nurse. By asking the right people the right questions, they’ll discover many ways they can help make your hospital stay less unpleasant.

Some hospitals allow family members to stay overnight. If your spirits are boosted just by knowing a family member is there at all times, what more could you want? However, if you don’t want such arrangements, this decision should also be honored. Your well-being must be the primary consideration.

If you’re a family visitor, honor restrictions on visiting hours to allow the medical team to administer treatment. No patient wants an audience while being given an enema. Similarly, if the patient is in intensive care or suffering from a contagious disease, do cooperate with the stricter visiting rules.

Long hospital stays (as a visitor or patient) can be boring. Many hospitals have lending libraries or gift shops with magazines and books. When visiting, take your needlepoint, write the great American novel and show your loved one that hospital stays can be productive.

Lift the patient’s spirits by being happy and supportive. Don’t take your problems (or your bills) to the hospital room. Maintaining a cheerful demeanor is one of the most important and valuable contributions you can make.

Ask the doctor for explanations. If you understand the illness or operation your relative is facing, you’ll know how to act and react to maintain a positive attitude. Know the facts, but keep in mind patient confidentiality; the doctor might not be ethically free to divulge everything.

One important thing to remember is that a distressed relative can have a negative impact on a patient’s recovery. If you are emotionally or physically overwhelmed while visiting, take a break. Ask other relatives to take your place while you rest, bask in a hot bath, watch a movie or regroup.

Generally, it is advisable to leave children at home, to refrain from smoking and to resist the temptation to supplement hospital food (unless the doctor says it’s OK to do so). Regardless of how humane it seems, it can be devastating to give chocolate candy to a diabetic or a bottle of beer to a heavily medicated patient. Occasionally, you have to be “cruel to be kind.”

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.