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10 ways to support someone in the hospital

Posted on Dec. 18, 2018 ( comments)
Teri Tingvall Moore (right) and her husband Joe, four weeks after sudden cardiac arrest, with their daughter, Nicole, on her 23rd birthday.

Teri Tingvall Moore’s husband, Joe, experienced sudden cardiac arrest but thankfully she was home to perform compression CPR before medics arrived. Joe was revived and transported to MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, where he remained in intensive care on a ventilator for a few days. He regained full consciousness and was transported to Pulse Heart Institute at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, where he received an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator. Five weeks later, he participated in a golf tournament.

You receive a phone call that someone you love is experiencing a medical emergency and is in the hospital. How can you help? What can you do? Here are 10 ways to help.

  1. Communicate. Although you might be thinking, “Oh I just don’t want to bother them,” reach out in the way you typically communicate. Receiving a text or private Facebook message saying, “Just want you to know we/I are thinking of you and love you very much” is such a loving gesture that is truly touching.
  2. Offer help. Depending on how close you are to the patient and their family, the best way to support those you love is to pause and think about what would be the most helpful way to lend a hand. Do they have pets that you know? If yes, offer to walk their dog or feed their cats.
  3. Maintain privacy. Resist the urge to put anything on Facebook asking how the person is doing or if the family has even been notified. Send a private message of love, not inquiry.
  4. Avoid sharing your story. Resist the urge to share what happened to you or someone you love in a similar situation. Regardless of positive intentions, your story is not their story and it can feel like one-upmanship, which is probably not your intent.
  5. Let the family update you. It is exhausting for a patient’s family to update others on day-to-day progress. And, depending on the moment, receiving such a request can be very painful. There are moments of relief and moments of worry — you won’t know what the family is experiencing when they receive your inquiry. Leave it to them to update you.
  6. Resist the urge to offer advice. Unless you are close to the patient’s family and have been there with them the entire time, it is best to stay quiet. The options you suggest may have already been considered.
  7. Provide food. It is critically important that close family members eat well. One of the best ways you can support the family of someone in the hospital is to have a basket or small cooler delivered. Items can include bottled water, string cheese, fresh fruit, granola bars, nuts and so on. Protein-rich snacks are incredibly helpful for those hours of endless sitting. Coffee gift cards are always appreciated, too. If you bring a full meal, be sure to use a container that can be throw away. Returning dishes can feel like another task on top of other more urgent needs.
  8. Provide time killers. Activities such as a crossword puzzles, a deck of cards and magazines are extremely helpful. Waiting for test results and doctor’s updates can be challenging. Tangible things to touch and take one’s mind off the situation, even for a few minutes, is such a relief. Worry rocks are incredible.
  9. Honor a family’s visitation requests. Of course, everyone has different preferences, so the matter of visitation is a delicate one. If the family has asked for no visitors, please honor that — even though you may think, “This doesn’t apply to me.” Perhaps the patient is not conscious and their family knows they wouldn’t want anyone to see them in that circumstance. Or the medical staff has put limitations on the number of visitors and those closest to the family want as much time as possible with the patient.
  10. Remember to care for a patient’s loved ones. Even if a patient has been receiving fabulous care, the experience can take a toll on their family and loved ones. Consider mailing a gift card for a massage, perhaps from several people, to let the family know you understand the impact this ordeal has been on them as well as the patient.

Teri Tingvall Moore is a philanthropy executive in the Puget Sound.

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