Our oncology nurse Elizabeth looked after the following patient nearly eight years ago.
She had just a double mastectomy and felt rubbish. She was telling me that her daughter's boyfriend’s parents (following?) wanted to come in and visit. She had never met the parents before and was becoming quite frustrated. For you see, this patient loved to entertain, to have visitors was a large enjoyment for her. And if she was going to host (even in hospital), she would do it properly. Her line which stayed with me forever was “why on earth would I want to see people when I don’t have my pearls on.” She could appreciate their good wishes and support, but said frankly “why can’t they just send me a card.” She relayed the message to her daughter, saying thank you for their thoughts, but she was not up for visitors at present.
This same patient was quite popular, her phone was constantly ringing. And usually just as she finally fell asleep after her pain was controlled. Her humour was amazing, and as appreciative as she was, if I was in the room, she would hang up the phone, smile politely and say “I haven’t spoken to <insert name> for 6/8/12 months, why do they think I want to talk to them while I’m feeling at my worst.”
And yes, this is just one patient's experience. And perhaps she is in the minority. But the point that is unless you know the person exceptionally well, and their preferences of contact, you may be intruding on their quiet time or causing unnecessary frustration.
But with a card, no matter how unwell the person you are writing to is, you can’t disturb them or intrude them. Merely send well wishes and support.