Hospital Visit

I was in the sixth grade and so sick at the time can't remember now what it was - flu, German measles? But the illness seemed to last forever, the days and nights dragging into an endless vigil.

And then something broke – the promise of a new day, the brightness of the flowers from Dad, but most of all, Holly - getting ready each morning for a new day of first-grade classes. Something about her was so vibrant. I couldn't move from the couch, but I breathed in her energy and it gave me strength.

One day remains clear in my mind since that time, a quarter century ago. Nothing spectacular, shocking, or jarring enough to force the memory. Just Holly, in a soft, green dress, with muted lavender flowers, going off to school - and my feeling of freshness, hope, and promise as she walked down our front steps. And then looking out the window and feeling still more of her aliveness as I saw her jump rope before the bus carried her away.

The feeling came back to me of late as I lay in a hospital bed for the better part of a week, waiting for a physician to pronounce the magic words that would send me home. I've thought a lot about being sick, about being well, and the juxtaposition of the two. And I've come up with a few simple thoughts for those who are well visiting those who are ill.

Try These Five Things

The next time you discover that a friend has been admitted to the hospital, make time to visit. And bear in mind these points, scribbled on the back of a hospital menu by one waiting to be set free.

1. Before you leave home, take a few minutes to select something attractive to wear. To the one imprisoned in a controlled environment, you represent all of the outside world. Your freshness, vibrance, color - all provide a refreshing change to oatmeal-colored walls, dim-brown broth, and dull-blue overalls. Just as the green and lavender dress brought me hope so long ago, I find myself today deriving courage and strength from my mother's brisk blue suit and my father's strongly shined shoes.

2. Bring news of the outside. I don't want to hear what is happening on the national front. I have plenty of opportunity for that. By pressing the gray button beside me, I can know the weather pattern for the next five days, the president's world policies delivered from his office, and the score of every ballgame played within the past 24 hours. What I long to hear is news of home. Are my flowers wilting by the back door from the lack of rain? Are my boys behaving themselves? Has prayer meeting attendance been good? No detail is too small to mention, no anecdote insignificant.

3. Bring something handmade by a child. I hold in my hands a workbook paper completed by Eric on his first day of first grade. I was not there to watch him walk into that classroom, find his desk, and enter the world beyond preschool. But I can trace the uneven letters of his name with my finger, I can smile at the correctly drawn lines between similar figures, and I can swell with pride at his creation of crayoned dogs and crimson cats.

4. Be sensitive to the patient's signals. My roommate spends one week of every month here, her body taking in the lethal elements that may someday annihilate the cancerous forces struggling for control inside her. Evenings she is surrounded by loved ones responding to her unspoken needs. Some nights the group is quiet, sensing Rita's exhaustion and need for rest. Other nights the collection of people exudes a more festive air, entertaining Rita with tales of their travels, indulging in memories of times past, sharing the bill of fare from exotic restaurants.

I am impressed with this warm circle of caring friends. They are here for Rita and recognize her needs. This sense of focus is never lost.

5. If you can't find the time to visit, call the patient on the telephone. Most patients pay a few extra money a day for the convenience of having a phone by the bed. How nice it is to have the monotone of a droning television interrupted by the jangle of a phone announcing the concern of a friend!

It might be wise to check with a family member to determine the best time to call. Perhaps the patient generally naps in the afternoon or looks forward to the evening hours with family members. But there may be some parts of the day that seem particularly long, and a call from a friend might be a cherished intrusion.

It won't be long now, and I will be on the other side of these walls, no longer selecting my day's sustenance from a pale-yellow paper. But I've learned something from my brief stay. Something I hope I will remember when it is another's turn to don the hospital overalls. Something about a little girl jumping rope on a sunny bright afternoon, and pale-green dresses, and vibrance and life. Something about hope. Something Holly offered to me so many years ago in another time and place.

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