Caveat: We don't need any of this today, though we are in the hospital, but it made me think. Over the past 7 years we have spent many, many days in the hospital, often many in a row. People always ask us, "What can we do?" or "How can we help?". These are GREAT questions, greatly appreciated questions. The problem is, you don't really know. Often you are very sleepy, exhausted and paying attention to your loved one, especially children, and you can't even think about what you need or want. I have posted this before, but thought I would do it again on my blog this time. Here is a short, incomplete list of things that really could make a difference to a family stuck in the hospital.
1. Food. You can't just bring any ole thing to them, though snacks are often appreciated and appropriate, depending on dietary restrictions of the patient and etiquette. For example, it is cruel to bring ice cream to a family member to eat in front of a patient who can't have any, especially if they are awake.
Meals - One really cool thing you can do if you know they will be there for a day or two is pre-pay for meals in the hospital cafeteria for them. Most hospitals now bring the food right up to you, but you have to pay for them downstairs. This can be a really big help. Another nifty idea for extended stays would be gift cards to nearby places to eat. No one likes to eat the hospital food every meal if they can help it. And frankly, you just need to get out sometimes.
Snacks - don't ask them, "do you want some snacks?". They will say no, but will truthfully really appreciate their favorites. Instead, ask "What snacks would you like?". They will still say no, but tell them you are picking up some stuff and want to get the right thing. If they still resist, give them options: Butterfinger or Hershey? Pringles or Lays? When they realize you are doing it anyway, they will tell you and when you are gone, they will love you.
2. Expectations - Don't expect them to keep you posted. In our Facebook world we have come to expect instant information. When you are giving care in the hospital, you can't always do it. Sometimes you can. For example, I am writing this right now in the recovery room, waiting for a room. Watch Facebook and blogs for news. It is easier to put it in one place and have everyone read it than it is to text everyone you know.
3. Encouragement - Let them know you are praying for them. You don't need to get a response, and they may not read it until 2AM, but a quick text or FB post saying "We are with you and thinking of you / praying for you" means alot. (at least to emotive people like me)
4. Recreation - Hopefully you know them well enough to know what they enjoy, but if not, ask. Ask someone who DOES know them, and bring them a book to read or a puzzle to do. However, keep it small. You wouldn't believe how much junk you have to transport and keep up with, especially with young kids. If it can't slip easily into a bag, purse or hip pocket, I wouldn't bring it. (Unless you are like me and take your backpack / man-purse with you everywhere you go)
Another nifty trick, wifi. If your friend isn't tech savvy but has a smart phone or tablet call the hospital and find out how to access the guest wifi if they have it. When you get there for your visit, ask if they want you to "hook them up". They will thank you when they can't sleep and are able to hit Netflix or maybe to do a Facebook update on the status of the patient. This can also be helpful for phone plans that don't have unlimited data. You could be their hero. ( I actually did this for a lady in the waiting room today that had no signal. She was grateful.)
5. Child Care. This one isn't as obvious, but if they have other kids, they worry about them too. Also, if they are like us, they hate to ask for help and likely wont. It is very helpful to have no need to worry about those you have left at home. A well placed sleepover, while stressful for you, is really helpful.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I would be interested in hearing your good ideas too.