Enhancing Healing: Fight Stress and Loneliness during Covid

28 Sep 2020

Sick people are different from well people. Being unwell and hospitalised can impact on one’s mind and mood.
The global coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 seems to be exerting massive pressure on health care systems across the globe and India is no exception. While social distancing and self-isolation norms have  largely been institutionalised, to ease such pressures, regulating visitors to healthcare institutions continues to be quite challenging.
On one hand are strict hospital visiting practices and on the other are reports of desperate families exploring all available avenues to obtain information about their loved ones.
During the early days, after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, there were no clear protocols even in the industrialised world as to whether family and friends should be or allowed to meet those who were admitted to hospitals.
According to media reports, visitors were not allowed anywhere near COVID-19 patients at hospitals. Even a Lancet report advocated that hospital visits should be restricted or banned as visitors could get infected themselves, or are more prone to infection, if they visit places where COVID-19 patients are admitted.
Worldwide reports point out to the compelling epidemiological reason for visiting rules, that a visitor is a potential disease vector between those with an infection and those without. Accordingly a rule in vogue does differ across nations as also from institution to institution, depending on various parameters.
More recently the Calcutta High Court had ruled that living with dignity includes not only the dignity of a person when he is alive but also the dignity following his death and maintained that disposal of a human body, whether or not the person dies of COVID-19, whether by cremation or burial should be done with die respect and solemnness. The near and dear ones of the deceased person who contracted COVID-19, the Court observed, should have an opportunity to have a final look at the human remains of the person and pay their last respect and homage to the departed soul.
The Rajasthan Government’s decision to permit relatives meet COVID-19 patients at hospitals effective September 18, reportedly taken, so as to alleviate the loneliness of such patients and the stress caused thereof is a welcome move.
That during the visiting hours, such family members can also get home-cooked food for the patients can go a long way in boosting their mood and outlook. 

For mutual benefit, it is equally important that the visitors not only compulsorily wear personal protective equipment, masks and gloves but also maintain social distancing norms, during the visiting hours.
Prior to the outbreak of the global novel corona virus pandemic, there was no restriction on relatives and friends visiting their near and dear ones undergoing treatment in hospitals. 

Even as many hospitals had fixed visiting hours and in some cases regulating the number of visitors to prevent overcrowding, many people often had their own ways and means to enter wards and meet patients. 

Often times, even a strict guard would perhaps get emotional and permit the visitors at odd times to meet the patients. In many hospitals, monitoring of visiting hours have been assigned to qualified medical and nursing staff and permission for visit by family and friends depended on the type of illness, severity of patient’s condition etc. 

Generally, the presence of blood relatives during an aged patient’s hospitalisation or parents during their children’s seems to be the norm at several health institutions for their physical needs as well as psychological support.
True, as the legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, human beings by nature are social animals. More so because, we are all connected to our families and friends either with bonds of marriage, blood and or due to acquaintance.
Be it a sick friend or relative, visiting them in hospital can make a difference to their health.
Various studies have shown that among many patients, sickness changes their ability to make decisions and they become dependent on family, friends or the doctor to take care of them. 

Regardless of age, once in hospital, many seem to start worrying about their health and feel anxious or overwhelmed. It is here that the role of family, friends and relatives can greatly impact in the maintenance of quality of life in such hospitalised patients. 

Yes, it is well known that emotions have a powerful effect on a patient’s health. The presence of family member has been found to improve psychological stability for the patient, as well as act as a source of support for better recovery. 

It’s because, family and friends beyond satisfying such basic emotional needs of the patient also contribute in decreasing their stress. 

Notably, simply stated, social support is related to psychological well-being of any individual. So, when a sick person is undergoing hospitalisation, the more the patient feels that she/he has friends and family who are there for them, they are likely to feel less depressed and anxious. 

Well, in extreme cases, too many visitors calling on a patient can not only cause overcrowding, but also spoil the peace and tranquillity, which hospitals are intended to provide to patients for their well-being.
One recent research has concluded that positive emotions have been found to increase a person’s resistance to illness. A group of brain cells known as mirror neurons, seem to get activated when a person experiences an emotion. 

Accordingly, during and after a hospital visit from a relative or a loving/cheerful friend or relation, the mirror neurons would stir similar positive feelings in the brain of the person in the hospital bed, thereby lifting their spirits and making them feel better. When hospitalised patients feel happier, consequently it can largely contribute to an improvement in their recovery.
We are in an age, where connecting with people is easier. Be it in posting status updates on the social media like Facebook/Instagram or simply talking with family and friends, savvy smart devices, can also perform a plethora of tasks deploying the ubiquitous “Amazon Alexa” or the “Google Voice Assistant”.
Nonetheless, there is nothing more dear and priceless than the mere presence of a family member, a loved one or a friend at a patient’s bedside. 

Even when they have nothing to say, their mere presence can be rather comforting that even riches cannot buy.  

So, while love and caring are critical tools for helping patients get better, it needs to be understood that when the family and friends fail to turn up for a visit, it could actually be bad for the patient.
In enhancing the healing process of hospitalised patients, under the present prevailing circumstances, there is an imperative need for visitors to follow all prescribed protocols, including wearing of proper protective clothing. 

There can be no room for any complacency as any deviation can lead to disastrous consequences.

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