Thank you so much for “Pastoral Calls That Matter,” by Rev. Louis Tamminga (November 2007). His last point of advice deals with visiting people who are sick. I work in a hospital, and my job is to ensure that our patients, staff, and visitors are as safe as they can be. I would like to expand on Rev. Tamminga’s last point because many people are not familiar with the health-care environment and because hospitals are changing the way we do some things to better protect people against disease.
In addition to what Rev. Tamminga suggests, anyone who visits a patient in a health-care setting should wash his or her hands upon entering the patient’s room (to keep from bringing any diseases in), then again as you leave the room (to keep from taking any diseases to your next visit). Hospital rooms are required to have a hand-washing sink, and most rooms now also have alcohol-based disinfectants for this purpose.
If you are sick yourself, even with just a cold, you should not visit a sick person. Many patients in health-care facilities die each year from diseases like influenza that are brought in by visitors.
If you are an elder or pastor and intend to visit the sick, make sure you are up-to-date on your immunizations. You should get your influenza vaccine every year, and all adults now need a new vaccine against pertussis.
If you visit people in health-care facilities often, you will encounter someone who requires what we now call “special precautions.” (We formerly used the term “isolation,” but that suggested such patients should not be visited.) You may visit these people if they wish to receive visitors and if you follow some simple instructions. There will usually be a sign on the patient’s door. It’s always a good idea to check at the nursing station before visiting any patient in the hospital, and that’s especially important for visiting patients with special precautions.
My last suggestion for keeping each other safe is to consider forgoing the shaking of hands before and during worship during the winter months to prevent the spread of respiratory infections, and to request that people not attend worship services if they are sick. Most churches include children, seniors, and others with weakened immune systems who are susceptible to infections. It is thoughtless and irresponsible to expose others in the congregation to these risks.
Both churches and hospitals should be safe places. We can be more effective in our ministry to each other if we follow these simple guidelines.