Today, we have a special guest post from my dear friend Erin. This has been a difficult year in which her baby has undergone two surgeries. I know as friends, we aren’t always sure what the most appropriate ways are to help or show our support and Erin was kind enough to write this tip sheet.
Top 10 Ways to Help Parents Whose Child is in the Hospital
by Erin Y. Halper
As mother to Louis, a 15-month-old who has already undergone two open heart surgeries, I know first-hand what it’s like to have a child in the hospital for longer than just a couple of days. And let’s just say I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But like many of the other families we met on our hospital floor, we were so fortunate to have family and friends offering to help out where they could. However, some gestures were much more useful than others. For example, balloons and flowers are wonderful in theory, but what most people don’t know is that they are typically not allowed on an intensive care floor. Therefore if you send them, they will just sit at reception until the child leaves the hospital. So if you ever find yourself in a situation where a close friend or family member has a child in the hospital, consider the following tips on how to really help them out and make a positive impact on their experience:
(1) Home-Cooked Meals
Nothing warms the heart or belly more than a home-cooked meal. When you’re staying with your child at the hospital, you not only forget to eat, but are typically limited to less-than-desirable meal choices. Check in with the parents and ask what time is best to bring the meal and make sure to bring food in disposable containers so that the parents don’t have to worry about washing out your nice Tupperware and returning it to you. Also include disposable utensils, napkins and microwavable paper plates. And if the parents are close friends of yours and the child knows you very well, offer to stay with the child in his hospital room while they slip away for an hour to eat dinner. Additionally, if one parent is staying with the sick child and one is tending to their other children at home, offer to bring over dinner to the house one or more nights so that the parent staying home has one less chore to deal with.
(2) Fluffy Slippers and Thick Cozy Socks
Hospitals are COLD! And after day 1, parents don’t care what they are wearing or what they look like. They just want to be comfortable. You can help make that happen with luxurious yet affordable slippers and socks. To take it up a level, add a super soft zip-up fleece and a set of pajamas that they would be comfortable being seen in during hospital overnights.
(3) Cozy Blanket
I repeat: hospitals are COLD! In most cases, parents sleep in the hospital room with the child. I had to ask for four hospital blankets in order to stay warm at night. I would have loved to have had a nice, thick, pre-washed comforter or blanket to use instead. For that extra touch, throw in a fluffy pillow and soft, pre-washed pillow case in any color other than white (to avoid the hospital staff confusing the pillow with their own!).
(4) Coffee and Tea
Late nights are just the beginning during this stressful time. Starbucks Via instant coffee packets and a selection of decaf and regular teas will prove very helpful for those restless nights and early mornings. Throw in some varieties of sweeteners and a cheery reusable coffee mug with lid like this one from Jonathan Adler and I assure you it will all go to good use.
(5) Healthy Snacks
It’s so important to eat well when you’re in a stressful situation. And sometimes snacking is the only option if you don’t have 20 minutes to slip away for a bite to eat. Some great snack ideas are: organic dried fruit, pre-washed apples/pears/bananas (or any fruit that doesn’t need to be refrigerated), freeze-dried fruit, Lara bars, and gourmet crackers. Avoid bringing food that needs to be refrigerated since not all hospitals offer parents a place to store food.
People think that there is so much down time in these scenarios. Well, there’s not. That’s because once your child is awake and recovering, you have to entertain them for hours on end, in a bed. If you know that the parents don’t own an iPad, lend them yours and have it pre-loaded with children’s movies, TV shows and interactive games. Don’t forget the charger! If you know that they already have an iPad, then give them a gift card to iTunes and include a get-well card with a list of some of the highest rated iPad games, shows and movies for their child’s age group so that they don’t have to do the research themselves to find great entertainment choices. We wouldn’t have been able to survive for 6 days and nights without our iPad loaded with Louis’s favorite shows. It calmed and soothed him during this very stressful time.
Small toys that don’t come with dozens of parts are ideal. Remember, the child will be playing with these in bed. Ideal toys are interactive books, small stuffed animals, puppets of their favorite characters, or activity books for older kids. Toys like cars and trains are too difficult to play with in a hospital setting and aren’t comforting or relaxing to the child. Keep in mind that they will probably have IVs in their hands so it will be difficult to play with anything intricate or that doesn’t lend itself to parent/child interaction since the parents usually have to help the child play with the toys, at least in the beginning when the child is still weak or sore.
Put together a small cosmetic bag filled with luxury travel-sized shampoos and soaps. This is a nice gift to give before a planned surgery or the day-of an unplanned hospital stay. Include ear plugs to drown out monitors that beep consistently and a soft sleep mask since it can still be bright in the rooms at night.
(9) Babysitting and Transportation Services
If the child in the hospital has other siblings, then the parents have the added stress of finding someone to watch their other children while they tend to the sick one. Offer to take in the other kids for as many days and nights as you can. If that’s not possible, offer to drive them to and from school and activities and have them eat dinner at your house so that the parents can spend the full day with the sick child.
(10) Kind Words
People often don’t know what to say in these situations. But a simple email that expands on the traditional “You are in my thoughts and prayers” is perfect. “How are you doing” is a loaded question and can make people uncomfortable. They are doing crappy. Period. And they don’t feel like explaining that over and over again or trying to pretend like everything is ok. Also, never, ever post anything on Facebook. They may or may not be comfortable with the world knowing what they are going through. One of my favorite emails was from a friend who sent a picture of her smiling kids holding up a big home-made sign that said “Louis, Get Well Soon! We love you!” It brought a BIG smile (and happy tears!) to my face. It was perfect.
If you have other suggestions, please add them in the comments section below.