How to Change Sheets in an Occupied Bed Like a Magician


When you care for someone seriously ill, you learn all kinds of skills you never thought you’d need. One of those is changing the sheets when the bed is occupied.

One of my favorite resources is the book “The Complete Bedside Companion: A No-Nonsense Guide to Caring for the Seriously Ill,” by Rodger McFarlane and Philip Bashe.  In the section titled “Turning, Maneuvering, and Lifting,” they say, “The first time you [change the sheets] correctly, you’ll feel like the magician who has yanked the tablecloth out from beneath a fully set dinner table without disturbing a single spoon.”  And hilariously, that is true!

They also emphasize, as they do throughout the book, that the person in the bed is still a person.  That person is deserving of our respect and love through a tough time when they’ve lost their independence and ability to care for themselves.  Make sure to communicate what you are doing even if you aren’t sure they understand.  Also maintain your friend’s privacy by closing the doors and windows, and using a privacy sheet if necessary.

This is easiest to do in a bed with sides that you can pull up, to make sure your friend is secure.  Prepare the clean sheets and a place for the old sheets before you get started so you can do it all quickly.  Make sure that the old sheets do not touch your clothes or the new sheets. If they are soiled or there is an infection risk, make sure to wear gloves.

TIP: use a draw sheet, which is a sheet folded into thirds and placed under your friend, across the bed on top of the top sheet, from mid-thigh to the shoulders.  This allows you to slide your friend to reposition limbs, or in this case, to roll from side to side.

  1. Stand on the right side of the bed and using the draw sheet, carefully roll your friend towards you. Many patients are frail so be careful not to pull on shoulders and arms.  Ask your friend to hold onto the bedrails for safety.
  2. Walk to the other side of the bed and pull out the tucked-in sheets. Then roll everything from the outside edge in until there is a roll along the side of your friend’s body from the top of the bed to the bottom.
  3. Make the bare half of the bed, including chucks (if necessary) and a new draw sheet.  Roll it all out until there are two lines of sheets against your friend’s back from the top of the bed to the bottom.
  4. Carefully turn your friend back, over the two lines of sheets, and onto the clean side of the bed.
  5. Remove the old sheets and put them into a basket/laundry bag, and finish making the bed.
  6. Cover your friend with a new top sheet and a blanket, being careful not to tuck the sheets too tightly over your friend’s feet.

And, like magic, you’ve done it!  The first time is a little nerve-wracking but after a while, it becomes more routine.   Good luck!

Some other resources:  Wikihow  and DoItYourself

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