Her list is designed for visitors to the hospital rooms of the acutely ill, but is easily modified for visitors to the chronically ill; and sadly, as often ignored. Below is Karen's list, with my adaptations:
1. Imagine yourself in the ailing person's place.
This is scary, which is why it's seldom done. It means accepting that you could be in the ailing person's place; you could be, through no fault of your own, chronically or acutely or (sooner or later) terminally ill. Most of us don't want to think about this.
2. Do not visit if you are hacking, coughing or sniffling.
I'm sick enough already.
3. If there's a sign on a door that says to check at the nurse's station before entering a room - do it.
Same for a "Do Not Disturb" note on the door. Please, call first, unless you have been directly told that you are considered, by the ill person and/or their caretakers, an exception.
4. Do not question the person, nurses, doctors or care givers about the person's health.
Well, I don't know that this is a problem for me -- except that it's very difficult to answer. How am I? Oh, about the same. Up and down.
Maybe I would say: Don't expect news bulletins.
Ask your friend directly if they do or do not want to talk about their illness.
5. Do not ask the person, nurses, doctors or care givers, “When are they going home?”.
Or When will you be better? Or, have you tried the garbanzo bean diet or yoga or that new naturopath down on Main Street?
6. Do not go into someone's hospital room while they are asleep and park yourself at the foot of their bed until they wake.
Karen says: One time the Baron thought that he woke up in hell, since he was surrounded by people that he did not want to see.
Hah! Actually, I think again that this is something, if you are very close to the person who is ill, you should just ask directly about -- is this ok? or not? There have been times, when I was seriously ill, recovering from surgery, that opening my eyes to see a loved one at the end of the bed was wonderfully reassuring. But of course, these visitors knew, directly from me, that they would be welcomed.
7. Do not visit someone that you would not visit normally. It's disconcerting to have a parade of visitors who you never socialized with suddenly showing an interest in you.
This is weird. There seem to be folks who thrive on the illness of others. There are also folks who will be suddenly and frequently present when a potentially terminal illness appears, but notably absent or insensitive when confronted with chronic illness.
Perhaps it's the drama of dying; or, more charitably -- and I think at least sometimes, actually -- the reminder that this person may not always be here galvanizes previous intentions to develop or maintain a connection.
8. Do not start discussing work or business.
Again, I think this is something to ask about. If someone is tired, or recuperating, and needs to avoid stress, this is a good idea. Sometimes, though, an ill person wants to feel connected with the world again; or even needs to feel useful and consulted.
Pay attention. Ask. And do you know the person well enough to trust the answer?
9. If you are told that the person is sleeping, resting, bathing, “not up to company” or needs their rest - respect that.
Karen says: I don't understand why this is so hard.
I do. It's because everyone wants to be the exception, the person whose company is always welcomed. The thing about illness is, it severely narrows the exceptions. Your task, as a caring person, is to not take this personally.
10. If a person tells you that they are tired, or ready to go to sleep - leave or hang up the phone.
Again, don't take this personally. Or do -- the friends I most trust and value are those to whom I can say, without guilt or embarrassment: I'm tired. Go home.
11. If a person is obviously tired, even if they're not saying it - leave.
Especially if you have reason to suspect that they won't say so; or, in my case, that I may not realize how tired I'm getting.
I'm sure there is a lot that could be added to this list. I realize that illness is a burden not only on the ill person, but on all those who care for them. Sometimes, not everyone who was a part of our life before we were ill will be able to adjust to these new circumstances.
And that's just how it is.