326. Intentional Visiting

Intentional Visiting | Visiting 101 part 3| Ann Ning Learning How

I so enjoyed going to the Rise Up Conference. I heard many edifying messages, but I was particularly blessed by Mr. T’s talk on “Visitation” – I’m referring to it here as “visiting” since “visitation” might be a culture-specific term not immediately understandable to everyone. I wrote a two-part series on How to Visit a while ago (linked images below), so let’s say this is Part III.

161.  Visiting 101 - part I

161. Visiting 101 – part I

166.  Visiting 101 - part II

166. Visiting 101 – part II

The Visitation seminar “worked” because Mr. T has major street cred in this department. His recommendations were born from vast experience. He and MMN were the ones who showed up super early at the hospital when H and J had their tonsils out. I was also privileged to receive a visit from Mr. T the first time I was hospitalized as an adult.

I caught pneumonia as a freshman at Georgetown and when I went for an x-ray they saw that my lungs were cloudy. So off I went to The Place’s main hospital and stayed for a week. There was no manual extraction of fluid, so my job was to just hang around, eat things, and get better. I called Mrs. R. from my hospital bed – “Hey, Mrs. R – guess where I am,” I rasped cheekily. Mr. T was in our area that weekend so he came with a bunch of my friends for a brief visit.

The most important notion I gleaned from his seminar was the idea of intentionality in visiting. I’ve thought about it more, and one of the biggest challenges of visiting is knowing what to say.

When I first got sick my friends consulted each other regarding what to write in the cards they were sending me. Sorry, I’m tired and don’t want to think of a euphemism: My brain had just bled and they didn’t know if I’d live or die. Writing a card was the only thing many of them could do (although later, some of them actually flew out to OR to see me – thanks, guys!). I often have trouble wording a birthday or thank you card – so this must have been a real challenge. Just remember, one friend said, you don’t know when the card will get there. Another friend asked Magic B what to write and he just said, Oh, I already wrote mine – I told her she has NO CHOICE but to get better.

Okay, that’s one way to address the situation. I remember poor Magic B was quite broken up the time I caught pneumonia so my brain bleed must have really upset the apple cart. That’s why I told him, Don’t be sad, k? the first time I saw him at church a few days after I flew home.

Anyway, back to visiting…a huge hurdle is “What do I say?” Mr. T recommended that you prepare something to share and be ready to pray together. He also emphasized the importance of being mindful of the time – for someone who’se really sick you could call ahead to see if they’re receiving visitors and reassure the family, I’ll be there for X minutes. That way you won’t overtax the person who’s ill, you’ve set the family at ease by managing their expectations, and you must decide what you want to say in that X minutes. (PS. Visit length is guided by the context and your sensitive evaluation of what the visitee can handle.) IMHO if you’ve got a serious time constraint you’d better not fiddle around – just go straight to the Word bc that’s what they need.

The assumption here is a basic proficiency level in scriptural encouragement. To be able to share something from the Word you have to be in the Word yourself. Ideally, you’d have a variety of things ready to share as the occasion requires. But don’t be intimidated. This is like learning a foreign tongue so you can travel abroad. Impeccable grammar and a broad command of illustrative language are not requirements here – important ideas are often communicated in monosyllables. I’ve advocated being ready to share or read, but I haven’t thought about intentionality until Mr. T mentioned it. I will add, though, that it’s crucial to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit. You don’t prepare something and then insist on sharing it regardless of the circumstances (nor was he suggesting that – I’m just spelling it out).

Automatically adapting your own experience and/or what you’ve prepared to share to someone’s situation could be dangerous. Even if you’ve undergone a very similar trial it’s safest to understand that it is not identical and you cannot know what it’s like to be in their shoes at this moment. If your experience really is relevant and you do share, I’d recommend some verbal hedging that acknowledges that your situations aren’t the same – there are likely transferrable concepts but hedging will increase your credibility and the likelihood that your statements will be favorably received.

I hope these posts demystify visiting and help you get started before it becomes a lost art. It’s not scary, I promise! The real starting point is to make friends. That way, if someone’s in a position to be visited you won’t feel weird about it since they’re your friend.

Before I woke up R used to visit me and she’d sit by my bed and whisper, “Don’t be scared, Ning.” (Sniff.) When I started to come around I recognized her from my Monday Bible Study and it didn’t occur to me that this new context was very strange indeed. I forget if I told her this, or if it was just mental, but during all those visits I remember thinking, “I’m glad it was you.”

166. How to Pack a Visiting Basket (Visiting 101 part 2 of 2)

How to Pack a Visiting Basket || Ann Ning Learning How

Last week I wrote  “8 things to do when you visit a friend in the hospital” – I’m glad I did because some people are interested in this (from my search engine referrals).  This week I’m writing about how to pack a “Visiting Basket.”  Actually, it could be a paper bag, a cardboard box, whatever – baskets were affordable and easy to carry ; although if I could carry things now I would have probably upgraded to one of those nice collapsible shopping baskets you can tote to the supermarket.  Use whatever is convenient for you.

The VB (Visiting Basket) is useful in many contexts, so this post is about any kind of visit – not just hospital-based.  There are 2 main  visit types:  (1) The Illness Visit – if your friend is sick; setting = any medical facility or at home, and (2) the Friendly Visit – this is the kind of visit I’d indulge in when I had the (partial) day off or an available Saturday.  I say “indulge” because it’s fun to go visit your friends.  This is a happy fringe benefit.  Just remember, though, that the primary goal of any visit is to focus on the person you’re visiting.  You’ll need to practice your people-reading and conversation skills, though, since often times a sick person wants to talk/think about something – ANYTHING – except illness, but you also want to give them a chance to express their feelings on the subject if they wish.  Be a good listener, but be prepared to gently guide the conversation (making them laugh is always a good tactic) should it start to get too Eeyore-ish (woe is me – I’ve got the doldrums).  Good listening is the primary rule in Friendly Visits, too – setting = at home, a restaurant, or at a friend’s place of work (verify appropriateness beforehand).  Use this time to catch up on what’s going on – all the craziness of running a home/earning a living – and you’re there to offer a bright spot in a hectic day.  Just be aware of the periphery – things might be going on in the surrounding environment that require your friend’s attention – let your friend go attend to (mini) emergencies without feeling any angst over not attending to you, the guest.  You want to be an encouragement, not a hindrance.

I’m writing this even though this stuff seems kind of obvious since I think visitation might be a bit of a dying art.  Visitation (I’ve heard it referred to as “Care Work,” too) was definitely a learned behavior for me.  I learned it from my Mom and “Grandma” and my visiting practices were made easier since I have no family to care for and could direct my time independently.  But remember, I learned how to do this from women with family/home responsibilities.  Apparently it’s more than possible – it just might take some additional ingenuity and logistical planning.  Finally, the art of Visitation is gender neutral.  I approach it from a feminine perspective, but I remember J(&O)’s brother, S, as being a prolific visitor – and he was only in our area for a few months, if I recall.  Well done, S!

But perhaps you know no one who “visits” in your community.  So it’s up to you to start – you can do it!  It’s worth it.  I had no idea this would happen to me, but the relationships I built through many years of visiting (just hanging around with my friends, really) were the reason dear ones dropped everything and flew across the country to see me when I got sick, and I found out that many more people had my back as they reached out to their networks to ask their friends to pray for me.  (Thank you xoxoxo.) Even in the absence of such extreme circumstances, visitation is a good skill to have since it’s a practical mark of good friendship, and sharpens your “people touch” as you learn how to listen/respond/interact, which is something always desirable in a management position at work, and also just getting what you need done at the office, at home – anywhere.  So if you’re new at this, recruit a friend to help you think of things to bring/say.  You can tell your friend his/her job is to help facilitate conversation, and then go for it!  The more you visit the more natural it will feel – and if you recruit another visitor you just raised the “easy” level a few notches.  Goal = not to feel like you’re paying a formal “visit” – you’re just going to go see a friend.

Okay, on to things to bring:

1)    Decoration:  There might be rules to observe if you’re going to a hospital, e.g. fresh flowers were not allowed in the ICU when I was there.  I received a gorgeous paper bouquet from my friend S and her little sister, D, also a brain surgery survivor.

Paper ICU Flowers || Ann Ning Learning How

There is usually a bulletin board in the hospital room, so you can cover it with fun wrapping paper.  If you’re going to someone’s home, a gift like a candle-wrapped flameless pillar would be nice and easy.   One of these would also be cheerful and safe in the hospital.

2)    Music:  Sometimes words fail but music can help.  Try keeping an old mp3 player loaded with nice soothing, encouraging music (nothing too rowdy, please) that you can bring to your friend if in the hospital.  Clean the unit, especially the earphones/buds at home and assure your friend it’s been sanitized.  If you have a portable mini “plug ‘n play” speaker, bring it.  Leave these items with your friend, if possible.  Just make sure it’s something you’re comfortable leaving at the hospital for a few days.  Your friend will likely store it in a drawer, but it probably won’t be locked up at night, and in any situation there is always a risk of things being lifted.  So assure your friend that it’s fine to store this stuff in a drawer (you don’t want to stress them out by making them guard your equipment), and also make sure they know how to work the player and are not intimidated by the technology. Side note:  I have been bidding on old iPods for this purpose on eBay for MONTHS.  The problem is twofold –  A) I’m cheap and B) my brain is foggy sometimes so I can never remember to swoop in at the end of an auction and win the bid.  Oh, well.  When I do get some I will load them with public domain songs, things I’ve gotten from Amazon or iTunes, sermons I’ve found helpful, and of course an audio version of the Bible amazingly available free of charge.

3)    A Picture Book:  Sometimes reading can be too taxing on the eyes, but a large picture book is safer.  The patient can peruse while alone in his/her room, and Mrs. R told me once that her nurses really enjoyed the book I had brought her, too.  I think it was either a pictorial history of the dress, a discourse on the House of Worth, or a coffee-table book of the evolution of the Princess of Wales’ wardrobe – whatever it was, it was easy to look through, and I’m glad it was a starting point for the nurses to talk with Mrs. R – who is always personable and charming, but it’s always nice to have a ready topic at hand.  You could also bring a small photo book.  A long time ago I visited Mrs. MA’s mom, Mrs. P, with RSKL and she brought a little photo album for show and tell.  It facilitates conversation and is an object of interest – just be sure to bring a relatively small album or book so as not to overwhelm your friend.  Side note:  I did not have the opportunity to know Mrs. P very well, but I wish I could have known her better.  She was the driving force behind the organization of our Sunday School back in the day, and understanding that people older than you have done lots of interesting and important things is an excellent reason to encourage young ones to learn how to visit.  

4)    Reading Material:  You can bring real books or magazines for your friend to read, or you can read aloud to them.  Put your thinking cap on and consider their preferences as you make your selections.

5)    Snacks:  I received many lovely baskets and food items during my inpatient life.  A standout gift was the birthday basket J&O sent me.  There were lots of nice treats, but the fresh fruit was literally a dream come true.  (I had been dreaming of the fruit pyramids in P&P when I couldn’t eat yet, and I was desperate for some fruit.)  Fruit is refreshing and a good option – just be mindful of dietary restrictions, e.g. sugar, acid.  If there are no allergies, nuts are good, too.   If you’re going to go all out, bring baked goods – I would do this more often in a Friendly Visit.  You can always give your friend the little box of cookies/cupcakes and it’s up to them to consume them later, but it’s more complicated in the hospital because you want to bring “healthy” things to the hospital, your patient may or may not want to eat “healthy” things, and family members/caretakers might disagree with your definition of “healthy” – so be careful.  But I mention it since food is always good.

6)    Tea-time:  I used to wrap a couple of tea-cups in a dishtowel, stick a thermos of piping hot tea in there, and show up in different contexts with a party.  You didn’t even have to add water – you just needed a place to sit.  I transported cream and sugar in little containers.  (Include spoons for stirring.)  This might seem a bit fussy, but I like china and teacups, and will use proper china at every opportunity (even if it’s a stretch).  I also knew that when I visited I was often inserting myself into my friend’s busy day, and it was an effort to take a break and see me, so I figured it was worth the effort to pack the teacups to signal that I appreciated visiting with them and considered it a special occasion.  I don’t remember ever bringing teacups to the  hospital, but I did bring teacups to the doctor’s office waiting room and to the workplace  (e.g. sometimes I’d go see my teacher friends at school).  The logistical key to this is the packing – use dishtowels you’re okay with getting tea-stained, and plan on doing laundry when you get home.  Choosing a more robust teacup (I’m partial to Spode blue and white, NOT cranberry, Mommy) as opposed to transporting fine bone china might ease your anxiety.  Alternatively, pick up some fun pieces from Goodwill  – they could either be fancy or everyday dishware – just choose something with a saucer.

7)    Grooming Items:  If you’re visiting a friend in the hospital, hair/nail needs might require attending to, if you’re both comfortable with that.  (I would not recommend cutting anything unless you are a professional.)  If you’re visiting a lady who likes colored polish you can get polish in the appropriate “Awareness” color.  You’re less likely to do grooming activities in a Friendly Visit, but some sugar scrub or nice-smelling lotion is always a lovely gift.

8)    Personal Coupon Book:  I’ve actually never done this, but I think it’s a fabulous idea and would TOTALLY do it if I wasn’t, you know, impaired like I am.  Rig up a “Personal Coupon Book” and give it to your friend.  It could include things like, “One dinner, delivered by Xpm,” “An afternoon of childcare at my house or yours, while you run errands” or “a Coffee date with ME!  Pastries not optional.  I’ll drive.”  The possibilities are endless.  If your friend is the kind of person who would never redeem a coupon like this, it might be good to specify something like, “If unredeemed by Xdate, I’ll deliver dinner to your house on Saturday, [date, Xpm].”

PS.  I got so distracted by How to get a heart ‘transplant’ yesterday that I forgot to tell you that my Vision Therapy graduation went well.  Everyone was as nice as they always are and I only cried a couple of times (in private, at home).  This was a vast improvement over the last time I was discharged from therapy.  To celebrate I practiced the piano by playing from the hymn book this morning.

If you missed Part 1:  activity-based visiting is an easy way to start!


161. 8 things to do when you visit a friend in the hospital (Visiting 101 part 1 of 2)

How to Visit in the Hospital part 1 || Ann Ning Learning How This is a 2-parter. “How to pack a visiting basket” will follow next week. (C’mon – you don’t carry a basket everywhere? If not, go get one like Little Red RH.) Good news: I visited a friend in the Hospital twice now. My immune system has not been compromised, but it still took some negotiation/prayer for me to be allowed to go see Uncle B(C). He’s doing well – as spirited as ever, I’d say. 🙂

I have extensive experience in hospital visitation as both the visitor and visitee. 2 people taught me how to visit: 1) Mom – she took me along with her to visit folks when I was a child, but the first time I really remembered going to visit an ill friend was when I was a young teen on summer vacation. Mom treated it as a natural thing to do so I always thought of it as such – you go see friends, especially if they are sick and might need some cheering up. 2) My “adopted” Grandma E – She and Mr. E were always the first ones at the hospital when anyone was sick. She’d have a potted plant in one hand and The Little Flock Hymnal in the other, prepared to wile away the waiting room time by singing a few songs.

I think the way Grandma E visited might have been somewhat of a generational thing, and the way I visit(ed) might be a church-phenomenon. It takes a while for people to get used to each other enough to welcome a visit when illness strikes, and those relationships are often forged at church and the visits paid/received in that context. Everyone, though, regardless of background, will likely have sick loved ones who would like a visit at some point.

I was comfortable in the hospital before I got sick since I had spent significant time there visiting family and friends. I didn’t visit the hospital in OR since I was still getting to know people and didn’t want to weird them out. Visiting can take place in a medical facility or the home, and I enjoyed home visits very much and called on the hospitality of others as often as I could.

One day we were in the car while I was visiting the J family in Africa.

JJ: Have you been able to get up to The Farm at all? (“The Farm” is where the N’s live, JJ’s maternal grandparents – I was so pleased to get to know them in OR.)

Me: Oh yeah – I invite myself over about every other week, and your grandma’s really very good-natured about it.

All kidding aside, visiting in any context can be hard (what do you do/say?) but can also be a bright spot in a person’s day, and yours, too. I had oodles of visitors while I was an inpatient – thank you all! And have since issued a few blanket apologies for any and all misbehavior that might have occurred on my part. When it was my turn to be visited I found out I wasn’t very good at it. To be clear, I was not lucid (most of the time) and I was so appalled by the whole situation I seriously thought I might expire at any moment.

One story in particular has stuck with me. At the second hospital a lovely lady, JA, came to see me with a couple of her kids. I wasn’t truly awake yet, but I was moving around, although unable to talk. During those few days Mommy says I was incredibly agitated. I remember lifting my legs up into the air and bringing them down full-force onto the bed/railings. WHAP! I can still hear it. My family was grateful I had the ability to kick, but they were sad to see me so frustrated. As I was thrashing about, JA read the signs of my agitation and very discreetly bowed out of the room since I was obviously not up for company. It was so kind of them to come, and I’m pretty sure the hospital wasn’t a convenient location – so I’ve appreciated every (attempted) visit even though I might not have shown it at the time.

This kind of discernment is key to good visiting. This is the first general tip I’ll state – you have to read the situation constantly as you go. If you’re at the hospital, a doctor/nurse might come in and need to do something. Give them and the patient privacy, but don’t make a big deal of it. Also, just try to be attentive to the patient’s condition in general– do their eyes look tired? Is it mealtime? This will influence the duration of your visit. First of all, though, you will probably have cleared your visit with a close friend/relative to make sure the patient is receiving visitors in the first place. And please, do not be offended if the person is not seeing anyone. One of my nurses, J, put a huge stop sign next to my door at RIO (3rd Hospital) that said, please see the Nurse before entering. She also decreed that visitors should come after 4pm so I could concentrate on my Therapy during the day. She was so nice – she told me she didn’t want to over-step – but I told her, “thank you,” because she directed traffic when I was unable to so I could prioritize.

I’ll just list a few things “to do when you visit a friend in the hospital,” since the hospital visit is a specific situation you might find yourself in, and if you aren’t used to just sitting around and talking you could probably benefit from some activity-based ideas. These suggestions were born out of my time at Georgetown – when I was an undergraduate, and a few years later, when I was in B School, Mrs. R. was in and out of the hospital for some long-term care. We got to know each other well, and she basically prayed me through my studies. I’d come to see her, tell her about any problems (personal or academic), she’d pray about it, I’d go write my papers, and then I’d report back to her the next day. One year my dorm was directly across from the hospital and I could see her turban from my window if she was getting some sun on the patio. These are some of the things we did, and maybe you could do:

Things to do when visiting a friend in the hospital:

Before your visit, make sure your friend is receiving visitors, and if there are any times that are good/bad. Also ask about any food/mobility restrictions. You want to know if the patient is allowed to swallow, if they are on any special diets, and if they’re allowed to move around the hospital. If they’re allowed to leave their room, ask your friend if they want to go on a “field trip,” then talk to the nurse on duty so (s)he knows you’ll be gone for X minutes, to procure a wheelchair if necessary, and to ask if you should be back by a certain time and if you should do anything if the IV thing starts beeping while you’re out. Either way, visitation will go smoother if you’ve prepared. You might have an idea, but you don’t really know the state your friend will be in when you get there. So you’re going to have to be adaptable and quick on your feet. One of the best ways to prepare is to think about why you’re visiting that person in the first place – what made you friends? What do you laugh about together? If your friend prefers to stay in the room:

  • Personal Grooming – you can do hair and nails; please don’t get all excited with a cuticle trimmer, though, unless you’re a professional. Just rub some cuticle cream/oil in, maybe some buffing would be good; the ladies might like some light colored polish, or some crazy colorful polish, if that’s their thing.
  • Picture Time – bring a large picture book with you, or perhaps a slideshow on your tablet/phone. Reading is more taxing that looking at pictures. I used to check out fun books from the campus library for Mrs. R – e.g. on the history of the dress, so I could just leave the books with her and monitor the due date on my own.
  • May I read to you? – if the patient is able to listen, they might like to be read to. The scriptures are often requested in my experience, and it is always good to have a few passages earmarked in your mind to suggest. The patient might also enjoy something else – if you’re friends in “normal” life you probably know what they like – go ahead and bring a magazine or book just in case.
  • Bring in Live Entertainment – this only worked for me since Mrs. R. was so gracious as to welcome some (charming) strangers into her hospital room (by pre-arrangement). I recruited 3 friends to sing her some songs since they all have lovely voices and one of them plays the guitar. One of my doctor friends used to bring his own guitar in to serenade some patients while he was a resident. Being unable to sing myself (especially now), I had to enlist my friends’ help – but if you can do this on your own, it can be wonderful. I remember people singing for me, and I know my parents were really encouraged by it.

If your friend is up for exploring:

  • Gift shop & Special Events – Most hospitals have a gift shop and there is usually a calendar of special events, e.g. a book sale, linen sale etc. You can go window shopping.
  • Vending Machines & Coffee Cart – If your friend can eat, go get a treat from the vending machine or coffee cart. This can be dicey, though – you want your friend to exercise the power of choice but you also want to be mindful of dietary guidelines (that you have previously made yourself aware of since you are a good visitor.)
  • Pediatric Art Therapy Room – some facilities might have a place where pediatric patients are encouraged to heal through art. Looking at their work will be nice – however, you’ll want to pick a time when the kids aren’t there (you don’t want to expose the kids or your friend to new germs), and you’ll have to find someone to say it’s okay if you poke around a bit.
  • Outside – I loved the Healing Garden at RIO (3rd Hospital) – it’s where Mom told me that yes, this situation was for real, but I remember it more for being the place where I ate sweet potato French fries on a break with my parents, and where I sat with M (OT3) on my last day as an inpatient. I am also drawn to the Therapeutic Garden at Planet Rehab. If there is no garden, any patio will do – just make sure you’re not going through any emergency exits and that you have a plan for reentry.

Have a great visit! This is when Mom told me that it was for real and NOT a dream: