I first published this to my Facebook Notes page in September 2011 and think it bears repeating. Fortunately, we do not have anyone in the family hospitalized at this time. There are families in my network that cannot say the same. This is for them.
My family has reached the "expert" level when it comes to handling major hospitalizations. Each time a crisis hits, I hear the well-meant refrain from kindhearted folks who simply say, "Call me if there is anything I can do."
Face it. I am not going to call.
It's not that I don't need assistance. It's not that I don't appreciate the offer. It's just that it is too burdensome to pick up the phone sometimes.
It's daunting to try to remember precisely who casually said, "Call me." And I hate to inconvenience people. Everyone is busy, after all, with their own obligations. Besides, it takes precious time to call around. I am certain I am not alone in thinking this way.
Here are some simple, practical suggestions that may help YOU as you help others in a crisis mode.
- Instead of saying, "Call me if I can do anything," identify a need and just do it. It is better to say, "I can pick Joey up at school on Tuesday and bring him to practice," instead of "Call me if you need anything." Be specific in your offer to help. What are you willing to do? When?
- Fresh fruit, cold cuts, bread, milk, paper plates and bowls are all things that will be appreciated by family that's commuting back and forth to the hospital or who has someone home recovering. Caseroles or meals that can be reheated are appreciated. If you don't have time to cook for your friends, order a pizza to be delivered to their house at a time you know they are home.
- Patients discharged from the hospital often need prescriptions picked up or medical equipment (such as a shower chair) and it is difficult for the caregiver to get out to obtain them. Offer to stop at the pharmacy or to sit with the patient so the caregiver can do it.
- Does your friend have pets? Pick up some animal food. If you are comfortable doing so, offer to stop by the house to walk the dog while your friend is inpatient and continue to do so, if possible, immediately following discharge.
- Laundry tends to pile up. As someone who has had to buy new underwear during a family member's hospitalization I can attest to that! Spend an afternoon at your friend's home and wash some clothes. Or, bring it home to your house and return it the next day or so.
- Do you like yard work? Mow, rake, pull weeds (whatever needs doing.)
- Is it the time of year to tune up a snow blower? Cover a pool? Put in or take out air conditioners? Move the patio furniture? Chances are these tasks will get overlooked during a hospitalization or recovery period, as will other home maintenance jobs.
- Remember that commuting to the hospital (gas), parking garages and cafeteria meals are unexpected expenses that most do not budget for. (Some hospitals have fees for TV service for the patient. I once paid $8 per day so Larry could have TV and a phone in his room. And he was there for 3 weeks.) A small gift to offset these costs will be most appreciated.
- When you go to visit, look around you. Are there dishes in the sink? A litter box? Trash that needs to go out? Take the initiative and put the coffee pot (or tea kettle!) on and tell your caregiver friend to sit. Then, over his/her objection, get the dishes into the dishwasher, empty the trash, etc, all the while lending an ear to your friend. Or, encourage the caregiver to take a nap. Chances are, he or she has been going full tilt since the incident began and can really use the rest.
- Keep visits short as the patient and the family are often tired following a major illness or surgery. Pain medications can make the patient sleepy. Respect the need for the patient to rest.
- Pray With your friend, not just for your friend.
It is INCREDIBLY HARD to ask for help. It is humbling. Most are too proud to admit there is a need. Or, like me, they don't want to bother anyone.
If you do help someone out, DO NOT mention how busy you are. It will only make your friend feel guilty for taking you away from your obligations.
At a time like this, I really miss my Mom. She would help to keep the home fires burning during a crisis. She'd make me a cup of tea, put food on the table despite my insistance that I couldn't eat (and I always managed to eat what she served!), she'd fold the laundry, do the dishes, encourage me to take a nap, listen when I just needed to vent, etc. Her support was invaluable.
You, too, can be invaluable to your family or friends who are faced with a challenge such as a major illness. Remember, there is a good chance you might need someone to help you out some day. Let's all try to help one another.