The Difference Visitors Make

Visitors kept me sane those four weeks I was in hospital, from the first day to the last. On that ‘in between day’, the day after I was admitted and the day before the surgery, four lots of visitors came to see me. My housemate came with a coffee in hand as well as some of life’s basic things. My brother and my niece, after the MRI debacle, came with flowers. A colleague much later came with exams for marking and to see how I was going. The next visitor overlapped. A close friend who came not only with her five month old girl but also with a week’s supply of chocolate. She stayed until visiting hours were at an end. She also happens to be a GP, so she could understand the presenting issues. Those visitors helped in more ways than what they could have known. Having to explain four times what was happening helped my mind adjust from getting work done to letting others know what was going on. It was for that reason I started writing emails and Facebook messages to various friends. They also talked through the problem at work that was unravelling my study leave plans. Their wisdom and insight said with love, grace, and good humour, helped me accept that perhaps I should postpone my study leave.

The days post-op saw a steady flow of visitors. They were encouraging, willing to talk about life outside, and it was good to think about subjects other than hospital related topics. Things about subject intensives, theological anthropology, children, work, taking a walk in Morialta, church, and family. Those conversations let my mind travel outside, brought colour and texture. And I am very thankful that the steady flow of visitors did not stop when I went to the rehab hospital. What was lovely though about the rehab setting was sitting with visitors in the garden at the centre of the hospital. At one point we had five children running around the garden, while we grown ups sat eating cup cakes, chocolate, and shared life together. My last night at rehab, two visitors came bringing the game Dominion. I knew that for both women coming out that evening was costly. One was exhausted from a full day at work while it was a tricky time for the other to leave home. The night nurse kindly turned a blind eye to us playing Dominion past the end of visiting hours. Every visitor brought laughter and humour with them, which sometimes can be missing in a rehab hospital. Their presence for a time meant that I could take a mental break from my own situation and remain relationally connected.

Surprisingly though, the steady flow of visitors throughout the week meant that I was thankful for the quiet days when visitors did not come. Those days were not many. But when they did, it was not a struggle to lie on my bed or sit in my chair by the window and read, watch a movie on Netflix, or do some journal article writing, sometimes for hours. I was glad for the peace and quiet, some time to reflect or just to fall asleep.

When I was lying on my bed one late afternoon on the rare day that I did not have visitors, an elderly woman who was obviously a patient and a woman in her late thirties carrying a child walked past my room. The younger lady who, I found out later, is her daughter was saying sorry to her mum that a second daughter was unable to visit because ‘she’s too busy’. The elderly lady, looking down at the floor, replied gruffly, ‘well, yes, I know she’s always too busy’. What I just heard made me intensely sad for a moment. For that patient, seeing her daughters and her grandchildren was the only thing she had to look forward to in her week. She spent most of her days in her room unable to go anywhere. Her walker had an orange dot stuck to it meaning that she could only walk around under supervision. The only time in her day where she could be supervised was in a half hour physio session. Visitors to her meant having contact with those she loved, but visitors were also her opportunity to take a walk outside her room. It made me sad to think that we have become so busy and so caught up in our own worlds that we cannot spare time to sit, walk, and talk with those who need our presence. Hearing the excuse ‘she’s just too busy’, I heard my own excuse that I have uttered too many times. I’ve just been too busy to be present with people. And I have tried to think about what I was doing and I have realised that I was doing nothing that could not have waited. I have prioritised tasks and deadlines over relationships when what should have been first was time being present with another person. Visitors make a difference. Time spent talking, walking, and sitting with others where depth of relationship exists is the difference between a good and a bad day. And on those bad days, a visitor is one of the only things that can turn that day around. It is hard to give the time. But as each visitor has shown me, time can be carved out and given to another.