If you’ve ever spent any time with a loved one in the hospital, you know how uncomfortable it can be.  The chairs are hard, the rooms are usually filled with artificial light, there is a constant barrage of noise and odor.  If your loved one has a short stay, it’s certainly bearable.  But, if you have spent time bedside for weeks or even months, chances are you have experienced a unique sort of fatigue.  You move very little all day, but feel absolutely wrecked at day’s end.

When my dad was in the Neuro ICU post-stroke, I took it upon myself to get my mom out of his room daily.  I knew that getting her moving was one way that I could help.  Based on what I know about sitting in hospitals and given my experience in the fitness world, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for someone who spends days at the bedside of an ill or injured loved one.

Get some natural light.

Go outside every chance you get.  Your body’s sleep cycle is regulated by your exposure to bright, natural light.  Plus, sun exposure is an important way to ensure your body produces Vitamin D.  Finally, you will likely have to walk to get there and …

You should walk every chance you get.

Humans were meant to walk, not sit in a chair all day long.  In the midst of personally trying times, it can be good to honor the body’s natural rhythms.  Plus, if you are like me, I do some of my best thinking when I am out walking.  Whether you walk down the halls of the hospital, outside on the hospital grounds, or around the block a few times, take frequent walk breaks throughout your day.  Walk to get meals.  Walk to the nurses’ station instead of pressing a button.

Take the stairs.

Ask the nurses where the closest set of stairs is and use it instead of the elevator.  You will get your heart pumping, you won’t have to wait for a slow elevator, and you can move freely rather than be enclosed with other (possibly ill) people.

Except there was that time I stepped in vomit in the hospital stairwell … .

Sit on your sitting bones.

I wrote a blog piece on that already, so I won’t belabor the point.  But be mindful to untuck your pelvis as you sit.  Katy Bowman of Aligned and Well recently asked on Facebook, if the object on which you were sitting were to disappear at this moment, would you still be sitting or would you collapse?  If the latter, then you need to adjust.


At Vanderbilt, the Neuro ICU waiting room opened up to a lovely courtyard and I would take my mom out there and we would go through a series of stretches.  Of course, we could also have stretched in Dad’s room, but we usually took a few moments to get outside when we could.

Here are some stretches that would open up some of the areas of the body taxed by sitting bedside and can easily be done in a hospital room:

Quad Stretch

Single Leg Calf Stretch

(use a rolled up towel)

Double Calf Stretch

(again with the towel)

Seated #4 Stretch

(need a chair)

Clock Stretch on the Wall

Head Hang

All that being said …

I understand that in many cases, it is not possible or desirable to get up and leave your loved one.  Whether for emotional reasons, logistical reasons, or because you are facing an end-of-life situation, I can completely understand why all of these suggestions may be useless for you.

Follow your heart and listen to your body, and you will know what you need in the moment.

3 Responses to “The Caregiver Series : Sitting in the Hospital”

  1. on 18 Mar 2013 at 8:43 amhot Nai Nai

    Had to laugh ..remember doing stretches in front of the window we could not see into? Then we discovered the people in the room could see out!!!!
    My additions are to remember to try to eat the best you can and not use this as a time to either try to lose weight or over do. It is easy to think”I deserve this because I am going thru whatever you are going thru. And get as much sleep as you can. If your person is not critical and just there for a tune up …let the nurses do their job and get away and rest. You are no good to anyone if you are in bad shape when the e person you care for comes home. And lastly ..laugh laugh laugh. Find something that you can enjoy for short periods . This time I have a newborn and 3 year old for diversion and facetime with MWOW AND K..my grands who keep my life in focus

  2. on 18 Mar 2013 at 10:43 amSheri Goff

    Excellent and well-stated. Buzz and I have been doing a LOT of walking (in a mall with fellow geezers!) in the past two months. Can hardly believe that just walking is why my bursitis legs are no longer plaguing me but maybe? And I am listening to you about the pelvic thing while sitting and trying NOT to sit as much each day. Thank you, teacher!

  3. on 18 Mar 2013 at 11:36 amKristine Rudolph

    I am constantly amazed at how much walking has improved how I feel. Love that you are seeing something similar.

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