The holidays are usually a time when we are more eager to give and help those in need, especially basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. We donate winter coats and we volunteer in soup kitchens. But what about those who have everything they need and are suddenly thrown a curve ball and end up in the hospital. What do we give them? How can we help?
A few years ago, when my youngest son was born, we were given shocking and unexpected news. He had multiple heart defects and was immediately admitted to the ICU. My son underwent his first heart surgery at 11 days old and the procedure was successful, but he became worse. The next eight weeks were spent in the ICU going through trial after trial including MRSA, weight loss, pulmonary hypertension and congestive heart failure just to mention a few. My son went on to have two more heart surgeries. We had spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year as well as two family birthdays in the hospital before he was discharged. I don’t know what I would have done without the help and encouragement we received from family, friends, church, school and even strangers. Here are 8 ways that other people offered to help our family:
Pray in solitude at home. Pray with your family, friends, small groups. Place patient and their family on a prayer list at your church and other churches. Leave a prayer voicemails for your friend. Send them an email prayer. Quote Scripture. Let them know you and others are praying for them. If you get them live, pray with them and do all the praying. They’re exhausted. If they don’t want prayer, pray for them alone elsewhere.
Be a sounding board. Don’t talk about yourself or your problems. If you have gone through something similar it’s ok to share but keep it brief and positive. Don’t tell them you understand or you know how they feel, because you probably don’t. Instead mention how this must be very hard and ask how you can help. Give a few concrete examples of help so they don’t have to think.
Set up a meal plan for the family through email, www.evite.com, or www.mealtrain.com. Simply place a cooler on the family’s porch where people can easily drop off food. The family may not be home a lot. Bring food to the hospital giving the family a break from cafeteria food, fast food, or skipped meals. Or come sit with the family in the cafeteria, so that they have an adult interaction.
Provide child care at the hospital in designated play area (so children are close to parents), in your home or the family’s home. Set up carpooling for children and adults. Offer to set up play dates, take children to birthday parties and other events around the holidays to keep normalcy for children. Offer to purchase Christmas gifts for the children in the family.
Set up regular home management like snow shoveling, lawn mowing, raking leaves, house cleaning, laundry, dry cleaning, oil changes, car washes, food shopping, decorating the home for the holidays and anything else that you can think of that the family might need done.
Be a liaison between the patient and family and the outside world. Setting up an update and communication system is vital but may take away precious time from the family or patient on a daily basis. There are special health sites such as www.caringbridge.org, www.carepages.com but Facebook and regular email work too.
Hospital environments are usually pretty dry, not to mention all the hand sanitizers and soaps. The moisturizers or lotions that the hospital generally provides are not the greatest either. Offer to bring in some good hand cream and soap for the family. They are probably washing their hands multiple times throughout the day. Chapsticks are helpful for dry lips as well as small fans to keep the air circulating in the room. Always check with nurses and family before you bring anything in.
Send cards, flowers, gift cards (for restaurants, fast food so that the family can eat out close to the hospital if necessary), stuffed animals, books, toys directly to the hospital room or the family’s home to brighten up their environment. Call the hospital in advance to ask what is allowed in patient’s room.
The main point to remember is that a hospital environment is a very intense and busy place. Patients and their families are inundated with medical information and multiple doctors visiting daily. There is little time and room to think about anything but the patient’s health and advocating for them, especially if they are admitted long term.
Image Credit: Flickr via Creative Commons
About the Author
Veronica Janus is a writer and speaker. Her book, Abundantly More, a spiritual and medical journey can be found at major bookstores. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children. For more information please visit www.veronicajanus.com
How have you experienced the holidays in a hospital? Leave a comment below and share your insights!