1. Call first if possible. That is just plain etiquette. Your friend will appreciate your finding a convenient time to visit. Some times a patient has had too many visitors, has gone through painful treatments, or just needs to nap. If the person is sick at home and being cared for by a spouse, knowing when you are coming may give the caregiver a chance to run errands or plan for some personal time alone. At least it will give them a chance to tidy up the room.
2. Wash your hands. Don't just rinse. Really scrub them. Do this before and after a visit. It's the right thing for you and your friend.
3. A good friend always knocks before entering a room, whether it is at home or in the hospital. Both you and your friend may be embarrassed if you walk into the middle of a bath or a medical procedure. A sick person already has had their usual sense of privacy compromised. Don't make it worse. Give them a sense of control by stopping at the door, calling their name, giving yours, and asking if it is O.K. to come in.
4. Don't let the television set ruin a nice visit. A sick person often has the television on constantly and may not even think about turning it down. Ask, "Are you watching a favorite program?" Usually a person will respond by saying, "No, just turn it off." Or use a more direct approach and say, "May I turn the TV off for a few minutes while we visit?" When you leave, be sure to offer to turn it back on again.
5. Be cheerful. Especially if your friend is seriously ill. The most important result of your visit may be to raise their spirits and give them hope. Don't be the bearer of bad news. Try to restrict your conversation to topics that will make your friend feel better. A sense of humor can often put things in perspective. Medical research is continually learning more about the healing power of humor.
6. Have a normal conversation, friend to friend. Talk about the things you would talk about in your usual setting. And don't get so carried away by nerves or a desire to entertain that you fail to let your friend talk as well. The most important rule is this: remember it's not about you. Be ready to listen as well as talk.
7. Don't give the impression you are prying into their medical condition. But if your friend who is sick wants to talk about their illness be willing to listen. This is the most important concern to them at this time. Especially when a person is not feeling well, it is important for them to have a feeling that they are heard. But don't become a substitute physician. This is not the time to show off your knowledge about their medical condition, or tell them about the new treatment your brother John had. Especially don't talk about the people who have died from this surgery or illness.
8. Don't argue. This is not the time to set your friend straight or to convince them to see things your way. And don't get trapped into playing "Ain't it awful." It is easy to devote an entire visit to talking about the awful hospital food, awful nursing care, awful noise, and awful health insurance and leave the patient feeling worse than when you came in.
9. Keep the visit short. Julia told me, "I loved visiting with my friends, but it wasn't until after they left that I realized how much it took out of me." Under normal circumstances ten to fifteen minutes is long enough.
10. Offer to pray. Of all the events in a person's life, illness is one where it is natural to pray. But don't force a person who is uncomfortable to pray with you. Ask, "Would you like me to pray? Is there something you would like me to pray about?"
Jim Kemp, who is chronically ill, offers wisdom for us all, "Remember God is with you both, so don't be afraid. Just visit someone."