When your loved ones have to spend time in the hospital, you might feel helpless. How can you help them get through this tough period? Sometimes, all they need is to know you care and are thinking about them. Sending or bringing a gift to the hospital can help them feel more at ease and remind them there are people rooting for them.
“The best thing about bringing something to people in the hospital is not what you bring; it’s that you’re connecting with them and that you’re taking the time to bring something to that person,” Jessica Zan, RN and Nurse of the Year at INTEGRIS Edmond says. “The connectedness is the most immeasurable part of that gift.”
Zan says one of the best things you can bring is something that can help them feel busy and will allow them to have a quiet distraction from their environment.
“Some things you can bring are books, fairly easy or mildly complicated puzzles (but nothing that’s going to get their blood pressure over the top), word puzzles, puzzle-puzzles — something you don’t mind throwing away,” Zan says. “What our patients miss most is having something to do that has a goal with it. Giving patients something that they’re the master of instead of food they may not be able to eat, balloons they may not be able to have, or flowers that may irritate their allergies can bring great comfort to them.”
You may think the TV would offer a welcome distraction to hospital patients, but that’s not always the case. Watching TV all day may seem relaxing, but to a patient who is spending an extended period of time in the hospital, it can become mundane quickly.
“One of our patients recently was a gentleman who had dementia and was very elderly,” Zan says. “In the hospital, he was very fidgety and agitated – so much so that he pulled out many IVs and catheters. One of his caregivers brought up some sturdy wooden coasters from his home. He would just sit and hold them; they were a comfort for him. They were a godsend for the family and the patient. It gave him something to hold onto.”
Stuffed animals can offer comfort to children but be aware that any stuffed animals you send may be thrown away at the end of the hospital stay as a precaution against germs. Consider sending a hard toy that is easier to wipe and disinfect.
“Anything that allows a kid to be distracted is great,” Zan says. “But don’t be so attached to the gift that you gave. It did its job and it did it beautifully.”
The gift of time
Zan says the most important gift you can give is your time. If your budget is tight or your loved ones can’t have things brought into their hospital room, consider spending a few hours with them instead of bringing something.
When Zan’s daughter had a two-week hospital stay, the time people spent visiting her little girl meant the most to her.
“The benefit ripples out to the caregivers in the room, not just their patients,” Zan says. “My husband and I needed that support. My daughter had me, her dad, the nurses. We needed our friends to help us out.”
The gift of time was the best thing that happened for Zan’s family. “Someone gave us two hours to go be with our other daughter and shower in our own shower,” she says. “And we had the comfort of knowing someone who loved our daughter was there with her.”
What not to bring or send
Although every patient will have different restraints for what can and can’t go in the hospital room,
Latex balloons aren’t allowed because of potential patient allergies. “If you ever go to a hospital party, even if it’s a staff party, you’ll notice they probably won’t have latex balloons for that reason,” Zan says.
If your loved one would appreciate balloons, you can still gift them by purchasing plastic balloons from the hospital gift shop.
The best way to make sure your gift will be received is to ask the nurse what they can or can’t have. For example, you might want to bring in some fast food for patients who dislike the hospital food, but they may not be allowed to eat it.
“Food is great, but it’s not something you want to just have delivered, like a bag of fried goodness,” Zan says. “They might not be able to have it, and then it’s like torture.”
If you do have approval to bring in outside food, it can be helpful to patients, and to their families, if they haven’t been eating.
“Chances are, patients aren’t going to like the hospital food, so if anyone gets them something that they like better, then they’ll be happy,” Zan says. “It’s a comfort thing.”
Quick things to remember when choosing your gift
- Ask the nurse if there are any restrictions on diet or any other gifts you may want to bring.
- Do you mind if the gift is thrown away after the hospital stay?
- Only buy balloons from the hospital gift shop.
- Consider bringing something from the patient’s home to give comfort.
- Try to bring the gift to the hospital yourself if possible.
If you don’t have a loved one in the hospital, but would like to help others who have family members with an extended visit, consider donating to an organization like Hope Link.
Hope Link, an Oklahoma-based charity, puts together care baskets for children in the hospital with rare kinetic diseases. The baskets are for the entire family and include things like books, snacks, food for the nurses, food for the family, and something for the siblings.