10 Ways to Make a Loved-One's Hospital Stay More Comfortableby Carol Bradley Bursack Caregiver
Reasons for hospital stays can range from happy occasions, such as the birth of a child, to planned surgeries or treatments, such as an elder having a hip replacement, to even more frightening emergency medical situations. While any of these reasons can create stress, emergency situations are likely the most difficult for both the patient and their family. Read on for tips on how you can help someone get through this difficult time.
Be an advocate for your patient
Despite trying their best, hospital staff is often overworked and short on numbers. If a family member has ever stayed in a nursing home, you’ve probably seen staffing stretched to the limit. A hospital stay will be just as tough, if not more so. Therefore, your role as an advocate for this vulnerable person — no matter their age — is even more vital. During your visit, you might need to walk to the nurse's station to ask questions from time to time.
Bring a touch of home to the hospital
Touches from home, such as a pillow, a throw blanket, or photo of family members or a pet can make a hospital room seem more home-like. While hospital stays are more often short-term unlike a move to assisted living or a nursing home, a few things may be allowed. Ask first — the hospital may place constraints on what you can bring because space is needed for medical procedures, as well as consideration for germs. Even one special item can make a difference.
Call ahead before you visit
If you’re visiting someone in the hospital, make sure they’re prepared for you to stop by. It's hard to be modest in the hospital. Flimsy gowns, fluid-filled tubes, and doctor's examinations can mean showing more skin than a person is used to. Additionally, medications can make people less aware of modesty issues and when modesty breaches are remembered at a later time, they might be embarrassed. Calling ahead before you visit a friend or family member allows them to decide if they are feeling up to having company, and to prepare for your visit.
Respect the need for sleep, even midday
With a patient’s inability to sleep because of pain from surgery, anxiety over the hospital stay, and staff waking them up when they do sleep, a hospital patient may have trouble getting needed rest. This may make naps important for healing. If they are sleeping when you arrive, you need to be honest about your place on the patient’s list of people to see. Your husband? Go in and sit with him. Your work colleague? Maybe not. Leave a note and say that you stopped but didn’t want to wake them.
Keep visits short and sweet
Unless you are a patient’s spouse or partner, keep your visit short. The exception is when your job is to be the advocate, which is often the case with adult children. If advocacy is your job, you’ll want to be around more, but even then, you shouldn’t hover with nothing to occupy you. The last thing the patient needs is to worry about whether you’re bored. For the most part, short visits are best.
Remember to care for the caregiver
Patients aren't the only people worn out by a hospital stay. Caregivers are often emotionally and physically tired too. When you visit, offer the caregiver respite time for a break to run an errand, spend time in the chapel, or just have some time alone. You could also offer to run some errands for them or check ahead to see if bringing food would help, since they're often not included in hospital meals. Anything that helps them feel appreciated and supported is useful.
Flowers are nice, but think outside the ‘bud’
Consider bringing gifts that may give the patient and caregivers a reprieve from boredom. You must, of course, consider the fact that they will be limited by physical pain and/or the inability to move. Magazines and crosswords geared toward ability and interests or other portable items might be appreciated. Even people with dementia might enjoy working with you on an adult coloring book. If the patient just wants to chat or rest, leave your gift for later.
Put your best face forward
It can be hard to keep emotions in check when someone is gravely ill, but being a weepy mess will only bring discomfort to everyone. False cheer isn’t necessary, either. Let your concern show but try to seem positive in your approach.
According to Daniel, a patient sharing his hospital experience: “After my seizure I had some friends who couldn't keep from bursting into tears every time they saw me. Frankly, it was unhelpful. I needed people to encourage me to keep getting well, or to offer gentle understanding, not hysterics.–”
Personal touch works wonders
Hospital accommodations are impersonal and rarely comfortable. Some TLC never hurts. Ask if your friend or loved one if they’d like their hair combed. Bring some nice smelling lotion and offer a hand or foot massage. Ask a guy if he’d like a shave. While touch has a long history of contributing to healing, some people don’t want to be touched except by those who are most intimate. Ask first. Don’t push, and be gracious if they decline.
Life goes on in the real world; offer to help
Life doesn't stop during a hospital stay. Bills pile up, the grass grows, food goes bad, and dust bunnies multiply. Consider, too, that this person may be caring for more people at home whether that means children, a spouse, or aging parents. Ask what you can do to help. The patient and their family will still need help when they get home. If you can be available later, tell them that once they are home, you’ll be help by running errands, grocery shopping, or doing things around the house.
Put yourself in their place and ask how you can help
What would make you feel better if you were in their position? Offer to do these things for your friend or loved one. Never push, though. This person isn’t you and will most likely have different needs. Give an introvert space. Keep an extrovert company. Try to imagine what it’s like to be temporarily helpless, in pain, worried, while trying to put on a good face for visitors. With that in mind, ask how you can help.