Have you ever thought about how you can care for a sick patient? Or how you can contribute to a patient’s journey through life (or just for a season)? If you haven’t, it’s okay, because now you can. You see, I was writing about my thoughts on sickness, prayer and healing one day (which I will share in another post) when I made this acronym on the spot.
And from this acronym, I came up with the way you can help a sick patient. Whether the patient is a good friend, or a family member, or someone new at school/work/church… this P.A.T.I.E.N.T. acronym applies to all. Here’s how to care for a sick patient.
How To Care For A Sick Patient
Pray for the patient.
Praying for the patient is the first thing you should do before doing anything else. And you want to do this in your own timing before seeing or visiting the patient.
What should you pray for? How should you pray? Well, I am going to write another post about this, but for now I’ll say you need to pray for ‘wholeness healing’ (not just physical healing aka for the sickness to go away).
Ask the doctor about the condition of the patient.
I studied a subject called ‘Healing’ recently and one of the suggestions for a person-patient relationship is to pay attention to the patient’s condition. This means getting to know what condition or diagnosis the patient has and how do you do this? You ask the doctor (or the patient) about the condition of course, but bare in mind that you must always ask the patient’s permission first. We certainly do not want to violate the privacy laws. And of course if the patient is under age you can ask the parents/guardians.
If only you knew little Harry had just been diagnosed with diabetes it could have saved you from buying that bulk-sized sugary sweets from Costco!
***From this letter onwards the acronym is not in any particular order.***
Time to visit the patient.
The keyword here is ‘time’ – time to visit the patient, it’s time to be generous with your time, and what sort of time am I talking about? The time when you spend shopping for a gift for the patient (e.g., little Harry). The time you spend cooking a meal for the patient or/and the patient’s family. And finally (the very important one), the time you spend visiting the patient in hospital/aged care/home/rehab centre… I believe patients like it when someone comes to visit them (I know I do). So buy a gift for Mary, cook a meal for Larry, or visit little Harry. Whatever it is be generous with your time.
Include others when caring for the patient.
Including others when caring for the patient has 2 benefits, one, you get to share the care with someone else, and two, the patient has more visitors. Yay! Let me give you a few examples to explain this point in more detail. Let’s say you are visiting good ol’ Uncle Sam and you so happen to have a grandpa that is the same age as him so invite your grandpa to visit Uncle Sam with you. Or maybe you are visiting young Charlotte and your daughter is about her age so bring your daughter along to play with Charlotte. Okay, one more example. Let’s say you are visiting a teenage boy (let’s call him Tim) and you so happen to know your Youth Pastor really well so why not call your Youth Pastor to pay Tim a visit? This is what share the care means. And the plus side to this is if you can’t make it to see Tim on Tuesday you can see him on Thursday while your Youth Pastor fills in the Tuesday spot. You know what I mean? Share the care.
Encourage the patient.
What does encourage the patient mean? Well, for short, encourage the patient means, encouraging the patient’s spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing.
Encouraging the patient’s spiritual wellbeing looks like this. If the patient wants to pray, pray with the patient. Or, if the patient haven’t asked to pray (perhaps the patient isn’t a Christian), you can always try to ask if you can pray for/with them (and of course you need to wait for the right timing to ask). If the patient says yes then go ahead and pray for/with the patient. If the patient says no then don’t. Remember to respect the patient. Another question you could ask is, “Would you like to read the Bible?” And if the patient is a Christian (or a new Christian), you can be the first one to ask instead of waiting for the patient to ask you.
Encouraging the patient’s mental wellbeing looks like this. Asking questions like, “How are you feeling?”, “What do you think about your diagnosis?”, or “Will you be okay?”, are good to find out what the patient is really thinking/feeling/going through in their minds, because once you know what is going on you can help them in a more effective way. By asking meaningful questions you are encouraging the patient to talk about whatever they want to share and this may help the patient’s mental wellbeing. And remember when the patient is talking please make sure that you are listening and giving your full attention (e.g., eye contact), because if you don’t the patient can tell that you are not being genuine and he/she may stop sharing their feelings the next time you ask, “How are you feeling today?” The patient will probably just give you a simple, “Good, thanks.”
Encouraging the patient’s physical wellbeing looks like this. Let’s say the patient is in rehab and now he’s learning to walk again you can stand next to him and say things like, “Keep going.”, “Just 5 more steps.” and “You’re almost there.” These encouragements will encourage the patient. Or let’s say the patient is feeling down and gloomy and she just wants to sleep in bed the whole day you can encourage her to get up and take a walk with you, “We’ll just walk down the hallway. How does that sound?” The goal here is to get the patient to his or her physical health again and this includes getting back on their feet or getting back to their daily lives.
One final note about this point is that you can also encourage the patient from afar. So this means if you are not present with the patient you message her, or give him a call. Find any opportunity to let the patient know that you care. This will encourage the patient and make their day.
Normalise the sickness of the patient.
Sometimes when patient is sick or in a situation where they feel, how do I explain this, not themselves, the tendency to wish for some normality may arise. An example of this is if the patient is having chemo the patient may feel horrible and out of place and to top it off the hair loss is making the patient feel, well, not themselves, and so what can you do? One, you could get a wig, two, you could get those selfie props and take selfies with the patient (make it fun), or three, you could shave your hair too! No but seriously you don’t have to shave your hair. I said that because I was just thinking about the World’s Greatest Shave. Have you heard of it?
Before I get to the last letter I want to share another example with you. This one is personal. This one is about me, about the time when I had to use my crutches. When I was using my crutches I was embarrassed (or should I say I was concern about what people would think and concern about the looks I would get), I felt out of place, and I didn’t feel like I was my normal self. And this is exactly my point when I say that sometimes patient’s can feel out of place, because of the situation that they are in (In my case it was being on crutches. In the cancer patient’s case it was having chemo, feeling weak and being bald.). So normalising the sickness/situation of the patient is great to help make the patient feel less out of place and a little more themselves.
Talk about fun things with the patient.
So, we have reached the final letter, but don’t relax yet because this is the second most important point. After praying for the patient in your own timing you need to get to know the patient, especially if the patient is not an immediate family member or your best friend. You need to create a friendship first (before you can do A.T.I.E.N.T.) and how you do that is by talking about fun things. Ask about the Avengers movie. Talk about the tallest tree in the world. Discuss the technicalities of the drone… Whatever it is that the patient seems to be excited about, talk about it. Now, if the patient is a close friend of yours, this last point still applies. As you have read I’ve typed about praying for the patient, asking the doctor about the patient’s condition, visiting the patient, including others when caring for the patient, encouraging the patient, normalising the patient’s situation, and these are all great, but where’s the light hearted and fun part? We need to have those too. Being sick or being in hospital is not a joking matter and the environment or atmosphere can feel tense sometimes, especially if the doctor just gave the patient a not-so-good-news about his/her condition. So talking about fun things can help make the room feel happier and that is what we want!