Let's face it, hospital visits can be awkward. Unless there's a new baby involved, few of us relish the idea of spending an hour in a too small cubicle making small talk, dodging nurses and skirting around the elephant in the room. Especially when it's a big elephant.

If your friend is very sick or coming to terms with an uncertain future you might be concerned about imposing or saying the wrong thing. And then there's the germs lurking around every corner and the fear that you might actually pass something on in your visit.

But you will visit because you want to show that you care. And your smiling face can make a real difference in an otherwise uncomfortable and sometimes worry-filled day.

To make the most of your visit to a sick friend or relative, consider the following: 

  • Check that it's ok to visit - Talk to a relative or the patient themselves to see if your friend is up for a visit. They may be too sick or not quite up to company. If your offer to visit is refused, don’t take it personally.

  • Check visiting hours. Different hospitals keep different hours and if you arrive outside the designated visiting time, you may not be allowed in. If your friend is in intensive care, you may not be able to visit at all. Consider sending them a special note.

  • Don’t visit if you are sick. This is particularly important if your friend's immunity is weak which may the case for example if they are having cancer treatment. Your common cold could be life-threatening.

  • Think twice before taking children along. If the kids are good and the bonds are strong, by all means take them. But for your friends sake and for theirs, don’t drag them along just because you feel they should visit. The kids will be bored and might act up and you and your friend will be too distracted to really catch up.

  • Prepare yourself for the visit. If your friend is very sick she may be physically altered and her appearance may take you by surprise.

  • Always wash your hands before entering

  • Be present - Turn off your phone and focus on your friend

  • Catch up - your friend may have been staring at four walls for days or even weeks. Fill her in on what is going on outside, but be sensitive to what she is missing out on.

  • Listen. Let her talk, cry, scream or whatever she needs to do. She's probably spending a lot of time with her own thoughts and concerns and it will help if she can share them with a friend.

  • Consider others in the room or ward, especially if you are part of a group visiting at the same time. Some hospitals have a special area where groups can go to meet with the patient, reducing noise and disruption to other patients.

  • Take a gift, specially selected for your friend. You'll find some gift suggestions here.

  • Leave the room if treatment needs to be administered and don’t get in the way of the nursing staff

  • Look for signs that your friend needs rest and don't stay too long

  • Consider the needs of other friends and relatives. Is there someone, a parent, partner or friend who has been spending a lot of time at the hospital ? Take them a cup of tea and find out if you can help in any way.