Many of us have worked in hospital settings even if just for practicums, but it’s a very different situation to be there as either a patient or caregiver. We’ve had a few major medical crises in our family and I can tell you there are few things I like less than being on the other side of the medical chart. Though I must say it has given me time to reflect on family stressors, expectations from medical providers and how we present information, both good and bad.
This past year had me sitting and waiting and waiting some more in both hospital rooms and lobbies. It’s grueling. We have a wide support system and numerous friends and family members were keen to do something. I truly understand the urge, but sometimes dealing with all the “what can I do” is more than we can handle.
Many of us will find ourselves in this situation at some point so, I’m hoping you’ll help me compile a list of “things you can do to show you care when there isn’t a whole lot you can really do.”
1. Caring Bridge (or other site): If the family is posting to a care page of any kind, try to stick to that information. I know families often don’t update as much as you’d like them too. Sometimes they’re overwhelmed. Sometimes they need to process info before they share. Try and be patient.
2. Emails/phone messages/texts: I love the messages that boil down to, “No need to get back to me. Just wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking about you.”
3. Cards: Snail mail is lovely and colorful cards can help personalize a grim room. That said, an awful lot of them have a very somber, even sympathy card look to them. I really like the cheerful non-event cards and even the kid oriented cards best. One card had printed “to a great kid” and below the sender wrote “at heart.” Cute and uplifting! As a side note, many patients aren’t permitted to have flowers in their rooms. Pop-up cards/bouquets can be a festive alternative.
4. Offers of specific assistance: One of my favorite people does this perfectly. She’ll send me a note saying, “I’d love to drive your son home any day, but Monday, Wednesday and Friday are easiest for me.” I love this because I can take her up on it without feeling like I’ve caused her undue hardship.
Feel the need to give an actual item? Turns out lots of patients can’t tolerate flowers in their room.
5. Starbucks gift cards: I’ve had more coffee in hospitals than I’d ever care to because it’s something to do. Everyone in the waiting room is holding a white and dark green cup. Trust me, it would be appreciated and many hospitals have a Starbucks inside.
6. Food: There are great sites for setting up meal schedules. If you’re willing to run point on it, hooray! I’ve seen this work most successfully when a friend handles the organization and is specific. For instance, be clear about dietary needs and what time/where/how to drop off. A step down from meals would be snacks that caregivers can bring to the hospital. Preferably these are snack sized, pre-packaged portions that can be thrown in a purse like granola bars, sleeves of nuts, fun sized candy bars.
7. Magazines: I’m a reader, but when I’m really stressed I just don’t have the band width for a novel. I’ll find myself reading the same couple of pages over and over again or finishing a few chapters and realizing I’m not even sure what the book is about. Magazines offer short chunks of info and if I didn’t “get” it, it’s no big deal to move on. I feel for celebrities and their lack of privacy, but those published escapades, not to mention fashion choices, have helped pass hours of time. I’m even open to less common hobby magazines (photography, organic gardening) just for variety.
8. Layers: If you feel like bringing a bigger ticket item, a fleece throw blanket and perhaps a small pillow would be awesome. Hospitals can be uncomfortably cold OR sweltering, often in the same day! A cozy hoodie or cardigan is another great idea.
That’s what works for me. Please add your ideas in the comments below.