With the holidays approaching, I'd like to offer my findings of what is helpful and encouraging to families, having been a hospital mom for 5.5 months, all of which extended over the holidays.
Q: What was the most helpful thing others did for you while Noah was in the hospital?
A: The answer to this is manifold. We had a beautiful support group of family, friends, our church and other churches, our great neighbors, and the amazing nursing staff that not only cared for our sweet guy, but also looked out for us. One thing, however, that I was quickly in tune to was the reality that this was not necessarily the case for all the sweeties in every room lining the hall. Here is a list of things that blessed us and helped us keep our sanity:
- People weren't afraid to visit, even though they knew they couldn't do anything for us. When you are in a situation like ours where the doctors are seeking out a needle in a haystack, it can often be scary and overwhelming. This isn't rocket science, it's the obvious response. Visitors like family, friends and people from our church were very encouraging...just having them sit there with us once in a while, or truly, to even be able to talk to someone about something other than medical procedures can be refreshing.
- And for those who could not visit physically, calls and emails were just as encouraging. One thing to understand, though, is as a caller, texter, or emailer, never EXPECT a return message. Go back to the old rule (which I personally live by...) that a phone and computer are for our own convenience...besides, giving things like time or encouragement for something in return isn't truly a gift...
- One thing that gave our hearts much peace was how our parents and sister came from AZ,, RI, and SD to help care for Em and Noah, which obviously was caring for us. Jason and I were able to rest either at home or at the hospital knowing that both Noah and Em were in loving care with responsible family members. Obviously at the hospital Noah was in the care of nurses and doctors, but there was no way in hell, and I'm not kidding, that I would have ever left him 'alone' with someone other than family or a very dear friend. I'm not trying to instill fear in a parent who does have to leave their child in the hospital, because obviously God is bigger and when He calls us home, no matter the age, it's our time...for me I had just seen too many "oops" situations and political crap that there was just no way I ever felt like I could leave him w/o a personally invested person represented.
A: The holidays can be either a great time of year or a depressing time, whether you or someone you know is in the hospital. Add the reality that you have no release date from the hospital, and it's like getting a lump of coal in your stocking! But, maybe it's because I'm a middle kid and peacemaker that I try to make the most of any situation. Believe me, I'm not boasting, because having a dying kid in the hospital isn't a stellar situation...it's many things other than stellar...but I was determined that whatever amount of time we did have with our sweet guy was going to be the best, regardless of wires, tubes, and all the unknowns and negatives. (We are all going to die one day, whether we are healthy until we're 90 and then we croak or only make it to 7 months...this fact, alone, should make us all want to be good stewards of every day and not live in fear... (another post...)).
But, I will say that people come out of the woodwork to give around the holidays. The hospital can be a quiet sleepy place most of the year, but come November and December, everyone and their dog shows up...literally. Their dogs do literally show up for pet therapy, which the older kids love. Anyway, if you are looking to do something for the holidays for hospitalized kids, visits are still great! There were American Idol contestants, professional athletes, guys from the FBI, firemen, cheerleaders, carolers, musicians. If you have a gift/talent, share that with others. It's not intended just for you...it never was...
And, since we're talking about kids here, let's be honest...all kids love toys and stuffed animals. Now, I say this with hesitation because I AM NOT EXAGGERATING WHEN I SAY THAT EMILY HAS APPROXIMATELY 50-60 STUFFED ANIMALS FROM SIMPLY BEING NOAH'S BIG SISTER, THE RECIPIENT OF HER OWN GIFTS FROM PEOPLE AND NOAH LEFT THEM TO HER IN HIS WILL...but, the sweet guy wasn't thinking whether his mom and dad would want all those creatures taking over the house (smiley face)...but he knew Em would adore them. So, there are ways to give clean, new with tags, stuffed animals to the local children's hospitals. Call the local volunteer office and find out how you can contribute. You can't just walk in and give them to a random kid.
When Noah was in Children's there was a program before Christmas where we were invited to a conference room that was organized with tables covered in toys and stuffed animals, all sorted by age level. We were given the opportunity to receive one item per table if it was age appropriate and then there was gift wrapping, as well, which we skipped on, since Noah wasn't big on tearing boxes open. (smiley face...) If your local hospital has such an event, it's a great cause and helps the parents who have been stuck in the hospital without a lot of holiday shopping time to feel like they've had the opportunity to give their sweetie something special.
Q: What is another tangible, measurable way people can contribute around the holidays?
A: Honestly, just like I knew early on that we weren't the only ones at the hospital, I also realized that we may be among the few with such a fantastic support system. Yes, there are usually restaurants around hospitals, as well as cafeterias located within the facility which are touch and go, but that all takes money. During the holiday season one family, who remained anonymous, gave out meal tickets for the cafeteria to all the families who were long termers. Another family gave out gift certificates to restaurants that were in close proximity to the hospital so parents could 'get off campus' but not feel too far away. Our friends and church coordinated 5 months worth of meals for us. So, I guess what I'm trying to say here: meals are a big help to families stuck at the hospital.
If you are creatively inclined, neo-natal units can use sweet petite hats for preemies, as well as blankies to give to families. Besides the toys and stuffed animals, I lean towards a more practical side of giving, so these types of things are useful to the patient and their families.
Another thing would be a sample bag for a mom or dad with shower gel, shampoo/conditioner and maybe a razor and chap stick. One of Noah's nurses was head nurse on a particular day, so, that meant he didn't have his own patients to care for. He walked in the room and found me in the same outfit I had had on for 4 days...he saw my greasy hair and instead of saying, "Lady, you wreak and need to take a shower!" He said, "Adrienne, I don't have anything to do right now. How about you let me sit in the chair and snuggle with Noah while you go grab a shower." See, the presentation was nice, but I got the picture...I was a stinky hospital mom. The two boys sat and read and snuggled while this mom got clean.
This is going to be a two part series...I have to go clean my house and get ready for a local Castle Rock event and Jason is being very patient with me since I told him I'd be on the computer for about 10 minutes...one hour ago!
I hope this helps if anyone out there in blog world is wondering how to help people with hospitalized kids during the holidays.
Have a great Saturday! I'll be back (smiley face...)