Guest post by Caroline Fosnot |
I have been a practicing physician for 12 years and counting. I love taking care of my patients and their families and I interact with people at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives: when they are about to have surgery. As an anesthesiologist, I am fortunate enough to be able to quickly comfort a patient and ease their mind with a cornucopia of medications that safely and effectively put their mind at rest… literally. While this is extraordinarily gratifying in the moment, I am aware of the fact that when I wake them up, they are left with bruises, scars, drains and the task of healing. I am unable to help directly with any of this when my time in the operating room is over with them, but I am consumed with the knowledge that this is just the beginning of their healing journey.
I have spent many hours in the hospital checking up on my patients, seeing them progress through their healing process, but it is always from afar. I see patients’ families and friends rush to their bedside after surgery and I see them go up to their rooms or walk out of the hospital with their loved ones. The question that everyone asks is “What can I do or give to help or comfort my friend/loved one?” It is a tough question to answer. I have struggled with the same question my whole life when I want to be there for a loved one and I don't know what to do or send.
Given the little-known fact there are many areas of the hospital where flowers or food aren’t even allowed, I set out on a mission to answer this very important question for us all, but most importantly, for the person who needs to focus on healing. They do not want or need to be asked what they need. I believe there are universal comforts that most anyone would enjoy — a good smell, a soft touch, a smooth sensation of hydration, a calming color, a beautiful package to unwrap — no matter what the situation is. I know that being comfortable is helpful in the healing process and appreciated by all.
My mission is to take the guesswork out of showing that you care. It’s actually quite simple: I have taken my medical knowledge and experience and combined it with personal perspective to create a one-size-fits-all way to give someone a gift experience with useful and lasting comfort. Here are some tips I have for when people need comfort the most.
What not to buy
I have a construct in my head that I try to avoid when I am deciding how to comfort a loved one (whether they are having surgery, having a baby, a migraine, a rough week, moving etc.) and it is “what can I send that will knock their socks off and NOT be a three C?”
What are the three Cs of gift giving that may not be hospital friendly or user friendly, depending on the situation. You're probably familiar with all of them and may have gifted them at one point. (It's OK, I won't judge!)
They are sweet and kind but not exactly useful or heartfelt. Most of us don’t take the time to write a personal thought, so by just signing your name, you've done something, but it’s not exactly an all-star approach.
Carnations (aka bad hospital gift shop flowers)
Save the money, the carnation and teddy bear are not helpful… and on some floors, flowers aren’t even allowed, and the recipient won't even receive it! Skip flowers, everyone else will send them. Instead, be unique, be helpful, be insightful.
These easy-to-make meals are well intended, but honestly, when you are not feeling great, strong odors, food preferences and freezer space make the casserole or prepared dish becomes a bigger hassle than it seems. Also, don’t give the loved one the chore of returning a dish! That's extra work for them!
How to comply with hospital rules
It is hard to know what is/isn’t allowed in hospitals so the natural inclination that people have is “Well, if I buy it at the gift shop it must be ok.” This isn’t true. Hospital gift shops are independent retailers who rent space on a hospital’s campus. They are not obligated to do anything other than provide merchandise. If you are going to buy flowers, you should check with the hospital unit secretary or the Charge Nurse (head nurse on the floor) to find out if you send flowers are they even allowed. Additionally, avoid bringing in food, it can be confiscated or it can cause a problem if your loved one is sharing a room.
What makes the biggest impact?
So what can you do that is hospital friendly and universally appreciated when everyone else is sending the three Cs?
There is a fourth C: Comfort! (And a few more.)
The good news is comfort comes in many shapes and forms. If you ask yourself what do they really need right now it is comfort: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. You can decompress their to-do list and ease their mind in many ways.
If they have kids or pets, help with driving takes a big burden off their plates. Give your loved one some comfort and volunteer to do it, as well as set up a sign-up sheet with neighbors and friends. Make a spare key and coordinate. With today’s tech-savvy people, this can be done quickly and easily. Done. If children and pets are cared for, the person can focus on healing.
Chances are you know their family and their children, so reach out and comfort them, take them for ice cream or have them for a playdate. Distract the children… it is the best treat to have people that love your children when you are feeling depleted. Have the children color pictures or make a craft or just sit quietly and read with their parent. Time with family is healing and decreases stress-hormone levels, which promotes healing and mental clarity.
While the casserole can present many obstacles, you can provide a simple list of potential dishes you could make for them or their family, let the person check some boxes of preferred meal options and you can prepare meals of their choice (in disposable containers or dishes that they can keep) to decompress that task. Healing is promoted by good, nutrient-dense meals and foods. If you know their preferences and make healthy meals, you are helping them heal.
Anything you can do to calm their environment is healing. Do a load of laundry, dust, sweep, play relaxing music. Make the environment an oasis instead of chaotic. Send over a masseuse for an in-home massage. Send a yoga instructor over or a physical therapist to help them get back their strength and balance. When stress levels are lower, less of a stress hormone called cortisol are secreted and healing is sped up.
Chores. Yikes. They still need to be done. If your loved one has bills to pay or household chores to do help complete them. Be proactive not reactive… it’s not hard to notice when dishes need to be done or when beds need to be made. Moving around too early and trying to ‘get back on the horse’ can cause wound problems, sutures can loosen and other things can be disturbed if they get back to usual activity too soon. Lend a hand, it helps in all ways.
There is a lot to coordinate in peoples’ lives. You can help by driving your loved one to follow-up appointments, make them a pedicure or manicure appointment after completing healing, help with anything that needs coordinating. Follow-up appointments are crucial for healing, help them achieve this.
The above list can seem daunting and most people find they don’t have time to be there in that way. That's why I founded HOSPITALity Kits. Originally created for hospital patients, the kits have gained a reputation for being useful in many other settings. These kits have a component of comfort for many senses that will soothe, comfort and show that you care without the three Cs!
All products in it are hospital friendly, baby friendly, life friendly and great for many occasions:
- Having a baby
- Dental anxiety
- Having a bad day/week/year
- Low-key weekends
- Just because (treat yourself to some pampering for no reason at all)
I hope you love the kits as much as I do!
Explore the HOSPITALity Kit now at www.hospitalitykits.com or for people local to Philadelphia they are sold at:
8528 Germantown Ave.
Philadelphia PA, 19118