On first glance this seems self-explanatory. However, a few tips may make things easier.
If you are uneasy about visiting the hospital, figure out why. Are you afraid of embarrassing the patient ? Do you not like hospitals ? Do you fear illness yourself ? Figure out your reasons and decide if they are reasonable. Remember that the visit is for the benefit of the patient, and that it is an act of care. People in hospitals can very easily feel isolated, as though everyone else is out there living life to the fullest…but them.
Call beforehand. Based on circumstances, call the patient, her significant other, or perhaps the nursing station of the ward that she is on. Find out the visiting hours, if there are any, and whether or not a visit is appropriate. When you call, ask if the patient needs anything from home or from the store. Sometimes little things can make a big difference, i.e. gum, or their iPad.
Consider bringing a small gift of your own. However, when considering gifts of or drink, make sure you know the patient’s dietary limitations. In the hospital, dietary restrictions are common, such as during the time before and after surgery, or stroke. When considering flowers, make sure they are permitted. Some units cannot have them because of infection risk. If the patient can do things to pass the time, consider bringing activities that he or she will like, such as card games.
When you arrive, check in at the nursing station and with the patient’s nurse. Wash your hands. Once in the patient’s room, it is important to suss things out. It may be a time for visiting and joking, but it also may be a time to just be present in silence. Either way, it is a comfort. Even without a lot of conversation, just being there is very beneficial. On the other hand, patient’s still like to hear about what is going on in their friend’s lives as they would normally. If the patient is too tired to read, they might like having the paper read to them. Do remember that hospitalized patients are almost always tired. Watch carefully so that you do not stay too long, to that there are so many guests that the patient feels overwhelmed.
Do not ask prying or personal questions about the patient or the illness. If the patient wants to talk about them, be a good listener. Even then, do not pry. Do not ask the nurses, doctors or other staff about the patient’s condition. They are not permitted to discuss the case without the patient’s permission, and asking right then might be uncomfortable.
When you are there, consider offering material help to the patient or to her helpers. She may need kids shuttled, dogs walked, or lawns mowed. You could even offer to set up a google doc or some equivalent to coordinate the helpers if the need is extensive.
Consider helping your friend after they transition back to home. Getting around will not be the same even if they are stable enough for discharge. Plus, hospitalized patients get a lot of attention to help them through. To have that come to a screeching halt upon discharge would not be all that fun. Connection, not isolation, is essential to healing.
Most major religions, certainly Judaism and Christianity, include visiting the sick as a formalized duty. It represents the best of society, and embodies compassion. The secret is, it blesses the visitor as much as the visited.