I don’t usually accept guest posts on my blog but when Veronica reached out to me with her article on how to bring holiday cheer to the hospital, I just had to say yes. Her story spoke to me in so many ways. I know what it’s like to be attending to someone who’s sick while the holidays is in full swing. You feel alone and secluded.
I was in college when my grandma got the dreaded cancer. She had been on bed rest for a while but her condition became worse in the last quarter of 2003. And then she died a couple of days before the new year and suddenly, my family and I felt pulled from all directions. The rest of the world went on with their merriment while we were desperately trying to take care of everything that had to be done. This isn’t an easy thing to do while you are grieving for a loss. It was a feeling that will never leave me and it is something that I hope nobody else will have to endure. With the holidays coming up, I know that someone, somewhere out there could use a helping hand. Reach out and try to make things a little better for them. No help will be too little.
Veronica shared her own journey of hope and healing in her book Abundantly More after her son went through several open heart surgeries due to multiple heart defects. It also offers practical knowledge on how to navigate life in a pediatric ICU.
Winter time brings Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years and millions of birthdays. Spirits are high, decorations plentiful and giving more cheerful. We volunteer in our communities more, donate more and step out of our comfort zone more to help those in dire need. But what about those who have everything they need and are suddenly thrown a curve ball and end up in the hospital? How do we possibly help them?
A few years ago, when my youngest son was three days old we were unexpectantly told by his pediatrician he had multiple heart defects and had to be admitted to the pediatric ICU immediately. We had no time to prepare or even process the news. We were in shock! My newborn had his first open heart surgery at 11 days old and the procedure was successful. But within days he became worse. The next nine 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 open heart surgeries. We 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. They offered to…
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 liaison between the patient family and the outside world. Setting up an update and communication system is vital but may take away precious time from the family and patient on a daily basis. Step in and handle the communication for the patient family. There are special health sites such as www.CaringBridge.org, www.CarePages.com but Facebook, text and regular email work too.
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. Emotions may be similar but every situation is unique. 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.
4. Provide Childcare
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 to school, work, or the hospital. 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.
5. Set up a Meal Train
Set up a meal plan for the family through email, signupgenius.com, or mealtrain.com 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. There are several places that also deliver food. Purchase gift cards to restaurants or UberEATS.
6. Personal Care Basket
Hospital environments are usually pretty dry. Hand sanitizers, lotions and soaps containing alcohol and other harsh chemicals are used everywhere. Offer to bring in mild moisturizing hand creams and soaps for the family. They are probably washing their hands multiple times throughout the day. Chapstick is helpful for dry lips and small fans to keep the air circulating in the room. Put together a little personal care basket. However, always check nurses and family before you bring in any personal care items and gifts. Send cards, flowers, gift cards, stuffed animals, books, toys directly to the hospital room or the family’s home to brighten up their environment.
7. Home Help
Set up regular home management like snow shoveling, lawn mowing, raking leaves, house cleaning, laundry, dry cleaning, oil changes, car washes. Offering to decorate the home for the holidays is also a huge help to the family.
8. Welcome Home Party
When the patient is finally well enough to come home ask the family if you may throw a welcome home party. It’s an opportunity to invite all the family and friends who have helped throughout the hospital stay. Plan the entire event from set up to clean up. If the patient is a baby people would sure want to see the little bundle of joy.
The main point to remember is that a hospital environment is a very intense and busy place. Be a friend and don’t give up. 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. They will receive your messages and be grateful even if they are not able to return any phone calls or emails. I LOVED hearing from my family and friends on voicemail however I was rarely able to return calls in those nine weeks. I also had a four and two-year old to care for as well as myself post pregnancy. Pumping milk takes up a huge chunk of time every day! How have you experienced the holidays in a hospital? Leave a comment below and share your insights.
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 Atlanta with her husband and three children. For more information please visit www.veronicajanus.com