My mother spent 3 weeks in hospital before she passed away.
Three very long weeks.
While she received wonderfully compassionate care from the doctors and nurses at the hospital during this time, this lengthy stay hospital stay was something my family and I had not faced in many years.
Although we wouldn’t have it any other way, spending so much time at hospital with mum, took a toll on my family. Aside for the (obvious) worry for mum and her well-being, there were many things we all had to deal with that one doesn’t tend to think about – until faced with this situation.
Generally, it is the patient in hospital who garners all the help, support, and compassion (and rightly so!) but, close family members may need help, especially if their loved one’s stay in hospital is a long one.
Similar to that famous music lyric that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”, you also don’t know what it’s like to spend countless hours at a loved one’s bedside, until you have sat in that (uncomfortable) chair.
We learned a lot during mum’s three weeks in hospital, from our own experiences, and from the actions of our very thoughtful friends and relatives, who provided our family with much-needed help and support during this time.
12 Ways To Help The Family Of A Patient In Hospital
Give The Gift Of Food or Parking
A lengthy stay in hospital may cause a financial strain on family members who must spend money on hospital parking (which is outrageously expensive!). This doesn’t account for the additional expense of food costs for family members grabbing snacks or meals at the hospital cafeteria, or fast food restaurant. Picking up the tab for parking (monthly passes are often available), or buying the family a restaurant gift card, can go a long ways to helping with these unexpected expenses.
Not everyone has a car or can drive but, everyone with a family member in hospital needs a way to travel to hospital. Offer a family member to ride with you, or gift them transit passes or taxi chits. This may reduce the stress and monetary burden they may feel when trying to sort out transportation to the hospital.
Life goes on despite the fact that family members may be spending long days at the beside of a sick family member. After mum had been admitted to hospital, one of my best friends, Susan, called me up. She asked me if I might be able to stop by her house on the way home from a day at the hospital. When I arrived at her home, Susan greeted me with a large cooler fully stocked with delicious homemade dinners, one fresh for that evening, and the rest frozen for future suppers. I nearly burst into tears. This was one of the most thoughtful gifts I had ever received. To know that I could spend all day with mum at hospital, and come home to a homemade meal that simply needed to be heated up in the oven, was huge relief for me at such a stressful time.
Hospitals are a hotbed for germs, and the last thing the hospital needs is for a visitor to bring additional germs into the hospital environment when they visit. You don’t want to be responsible for making a patient, or their family member, sick. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you to use before entering the hospital. Additionally, most hospitals offer dispensers stocked with hand sanitizer. You can usually find these at entrances to the hospital and emergency room. Above all, stay home if you are sick yourself!
The Kids, The Dogs, And The Elderly Family Member
While the focus is on the patient in hospital, other family members may still need taking care of. Offer to babysit the kids when needed, or take them for an overnight. Dogs and other pets may need care. Perhaps they just need someone to check on them during the day, or perhaps they need longer term care while their owner is in hospital. Elderly parents may need assistance with daily living if their regular caretaker is in hospital. A very kind family friend drove my father back and forth to hospital several times to visit mum, leaving us free to stay at hospital and not worry about transportation for dad. Remember, elderly family members may also need help with grocery shopping, errands, household chores, and appointments while their caregiver is in hospital.
Lend A Sympathetic Ear
The stress of having a very ill family member in hospital can be overwhelming for some people. Dealing with being a caregiver, interacting with doctors and nurses, not eating/sleeping properly, and trying to hold down the fort at home, is tough to handle for weeks on end. Sometimes people just need a sympathetic ear to get things off their chest at times like this. Show your support. Offer to meet for a coffee or chat by phone. A little time with a friend may be all a family member needs to refresh, recharge, and get back to being a great caregiver.
Stop And Smell The Roses – At Home
As beautiful as flowers look in a hospital room, they are not a practical gift to give to a patient (nor are they allowed in the ICU). Flowers could trigger an allergic reaction for anyone in the hospital room, and they need to be watered (something the patient can’t do and something family members may overlook). In addition, consider the effort it takes a family member to transport the beautiful arrangements home in one piece – without spilling water all over the car! A better idea – have a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered to the patient when they arrive home.
Come From Away
The second week Mum was in hospital, a very special cousin of hers called us to ask if it might be okay if she hop on a train and come visit. We said “YES!”. That night, we slept in our own beds knowing that Mum was in good hands with her cousin by her side. Offer to stay overnight with a very ill patient if allowed by the hospital. It may be a greatly appreciated gesture.
Comforts Of Home
When someone is taken to hospital by ambulance, things like pyjamas, slippers, personal items, outdoor clothing and footwear are often forgotten at home. Offer to stop by your friend’s home to pick up needed items. Offer to lend them things you have on hand. It doesn’t seem like it at the time but, having these items at hospital can become important if a prolonged hospital stay is warranted, or the patient is suddenly discharged from hospital. My father’s sudden release from hospital, late on a frigid winter’s night, caught me off-guard. I arrived at the hospital to find my father ready for me to take him home – wearing only a light shirt, pants, and socks!
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
A visit from a friend can be great for both a hospital patient and their family, however, a visit can become too much of a good thing. Don’t overstay your visit. A patient may need rest. Family members may want time alone with the patient. Offer to leave without being asked. A patient will tell you if they want you to stay.
A Few Of Their Favourite Things
Having a few favourite things at hospital can be a comforting and welcome distraction for any patient. Help the family out by bringing some things you know the patient will enjoy, and things the family may not have thought to bring to hospital, such as:
- CD/MP3 player
- Ear plugs
- Lip balm
- Hand sanitizer
- Playing cards
- Favourite treats (if allowed)
- Books and magazines
Don’t forget the caregiver! A small treat can be a big “pick me up” for a weary family member.
One of the most difficult times for a hospital patient and their family is when the patient is well enough to go home. This is a time when the patient – and family – may need help the most. They may need help with daily chores, running errands, or getting to medical appointments. Offer concrete help – specific things you can do to help the patient and their family.
Have you got any great suggestions for helping out the family of a patient in hospital? We’d love to hear them! Leave a comment!