By: Ariel Fixler
1. Emotionally prepare.
Don’t come in with your own emotional baggage. Don’t come in dumping your issues on a patient. They don’t want to play therapist to any drama. Just because they are not out and about physically doesn’t make them your safe haven. Don’t open Pandora’s Box on them. They need a sounding board and a safe haven.
2. Don’t tightly schedule a visit.
Where you basically have such a tight window of time, if you are late or if the patient opens up they are quickly shut down because you have to vacate the visit. You need to plan time before and after. Navigating a hospital isn’t easy, bathrooms aren’t always accessible and it takes time to get to the room. The patient may be consulting with their medical team, be in the midst of rounds, being helped to the bathroom, or need an injection of medicine or a refill of their IV. Take the time to figure out how to get to the hospital, so you don’t need to ask for exact directions. Let the patient rest and not play hospital Google maps with you up until the minute you arrive. Ask the staff, help desk, security guards and everyone at the hospital for directions. Everyone at the hospital is fully equipped to be your guide or look it all up on the hospital website beforehand.
3. Take the lead on bringing something if the patient doesn’t have any special requests.
Do not bring flowers, pets, children, plants, balloons, stuffed animals etc. Patients going through treatment have compromised immune systems. If they are nauseated they probably don’t want to read. They may also be dizzy from their meds and not have the same laser focus for more intellectual fair. They may just want ginger ale cans, ginger chews, ginger lollipops, saltines etc. Though trash magazines and books are great, they are also hard to read when they are nauseated and compromised physically. Same goes for games and puzzles. We may be having trouble concentrating but we are not children or mentally limited to children’s fair. Ask if they need a DVD player, a tether to help strengthen the wireless signal so they can feel connected to the “world” while being so overtly disconnected. That tether can also be used to let them stream content on Netflix on their laptop or use an Apple TV, Amazon Fire player, Roku, or any other device.
4. Pre load a tablet for them with downloaded movies and TV shows they can enjoy.
As hospital download speed is very slow and they need something easy and accessible.
5. Hospitals are so loud.
Doors are never fully closed and left ajar for the staff to filter in and out at a moments notice. Hospital roommates and their visitors can be as loud as arguments at the roundtables on the “View”. Think really comfortable sleeping headphones, earplugs or hats or ear wraps with headphones inside. Amazon.com can be a godsend for that search.
6. The hospital is cold and sterile.
It’s hard to wear sweatshirts while on an IV or during chemo. As your arms need to be accessible, and the patient may be on a breathing machine or Oxygen tank. These machines may make dressing them in anything but a hospital gown impossible. So instead, help layer them up the parts of their body that don’t need constant prodding and access. Think cozy socks with traction on the bottom so they don’t slip and multiple socks to layer up. Think sleeve extenders to provide warmth to your arms, since sweatshirts do not fit easily over IVs and hospital gowns. You can bring spare pairs of underwear so they can feel clean. Fresh pajama pants and even slippers that you can sleep in to stay over and PJs for the patient as well. My friend Valerie’s mom knitted me slippers I could sleep in. Think about bringing blankets, hats, scarves and neck wraps that provide warmth and comfort.
7. They may be in the hospital but hygiene still is important, as is appearance.
Get them things that normalize them. Deodorant, Mouthwash without alcohol, travel size toothbrush and toothpaste, lotions for cracked skin, chapstick and aquaphor. Additionally, extra pillows to put between their legs while they sleep to manage pain and comfort can be an asset. Bring them easy to carry overnight bags to bring their items home in as opposed to the sterile hospital plastic bags.
8. Don’t ask to take photos.
It makes the patient extremely uncomfortable to say NO to a normal social offering. They know you are trying to include them and normalize them with a photo, which is part of the mainstream culture and activities. However they may not want these tender moments to be Kodak moments. Visits are private and are as treasured as are rare outings. So asking them for a photo, feels like a proof of purchase. Proof that you visited and “came through”. It is an icky and cringe worthy feeling of WHY. Same goes for posting that you are going to see a patient on social media. Or painting their Facebook wall red with messages, instead of tender moments that can be treasured and revisited offline, without the need to “respond publicly”.