Supporting a Hospitalized Friend

A stay in the hospital is not fun for anyone, and it is even more challenging if the patient lives away from family or has kids still living at home.  Fighting Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has landed me in the hospital a few times in as many years, one visit as long as 9 days! My family and friends got me through it every time.  And it may surprise you to know that it doesn’t have to be time intensive or expensive for you.  

This handful of personal faves lovingly given to me by my amazing friends, family and neighbors, got me through some hospital blues. 

  1. Text your friend!  Fast and Free! Texting is a great way to send your well wishes in an unobtrusive way.  People staying in the hospital may be sleeping, meeting with doctors, getting poked and prodded, or washing their hair…..which is legitimately a time intensive task when IV sites and other medical attachments have to be covered and taped and then a nurse has to sometimes be available to assist.  Texts can be responded to if/when the patient is up to it, or just appreciated and looked back to when the patient needs an emotional boost. (Don’t be offended or worried if there’s no response!)

I personally loved the funny memes and jokes the best.  Laughter is truly a medicine for positive outlook. From innocent puppies to raunchy innuendo- send what will make your friend smile, or laugh maniacally.  Heck, mix it up and keep things interesting.  

Here is a mostly innocent example.  

I also appreciated quotes about strength and friendship.  Here are two favorites I come back to over and over when I’m frustrated with health complications:

Another favorite was receiving text pics of my kids at practice, school activities, or hanging out at a friend’s house.  Pictures of things happening outside of the hospital that I could look forward to later. My sister sent pics of her toddlers being silly.  One friend texted me pictures of her peonies (which I have coveted for years) in bloom. BEAUTIFUL!

2. Help with kids.  Free! My husband and I were so grateful for all the folks who stepped up to get our children to and from activities.  The play dates and extra TLC from caring adults gave my kids reassurance and routine. One friend came to the rescue when my daughter’s mouth was too sore from orthodontics to eat her lunch at school and my husband couldn’t leave work to get her something soft. My friend went to the nearest smoothie place and dropped it off at school so my daughter would have something to eat. I still get all watery eyed over that one.

3. Cards and pictures.  Inexpensive.  Send some blue painter’s tape for good measure. The patient, nurse, family, or you, if you bring cards and pics in person, can tape the cards and pictures up for your friend to see from bed.  When I opened my eyes and my attention was drawn to the thoughtful notes and pictures from people who love me, my heart felt full.  If you have kids, have them send their pictures too!

4. Share little gifts of comfort.  Items I treasured for less than $10

  • Chapstick- hospital air is dry
  • Hand lotion- hospital air is really dry, and there’s a lot of hand washing.
  • Magazine- books are OK too, but someone who is really sick may not have the focus for a book. Know your friend, if in doubt- magazine.
  • Notecards and fun pen(s)- I wrote notes to my kids and also thank you notes for people who helped me out or did special things for me.  An attitude of gratitude is good for the positive outlook too! 
  • Favorite snacks/candy- hospital food is not awesome.  If your friend is not on a restricted diet, send a favorite candy or snack.
  • Fuzzy socks with rubber treads. Most hospitals have this thing about falling (especially for us fall risk MS patients), so the rubber treads are a must! 
  • Small gifts or games for kids to enjoy while visiting their mom/dad.  One friend made a little basket for my kids from the dollar store. Colored pencils, coloring books, stickers, and a little puzzle.
  • Decorations from the dollar store and blue tape for kids to decorate.  My last hospital stay was Luau themed! 
  • Something unique that will bring your friend joy.  You’ll know it when you see it. 

STORY ALERT!!! My unique treasure came in the form of a package of fuzzy adhesive mustaches.  I began to wear them whenever the nurse shift changed or I was expecting a visitor. I would dramatically turn to them when they came in and proclaim, “I mustache you to take good care of me today.”  The nurses started bringing in nurse buddies just so I could trick them. It was quite the diversion. I shocked one of the blood draw technicians at 4am when I woke up just before she came in and donned a particularly bushy mustache.  When she turned on the light, I told her I thought the treatment was having some adverse side effects. Then she looked at me and shouted, “Oh my lord!” I will never forget it. We both had quite the laugh once she recovered from the initial shock.  She still poked me and drew my blood, but the gift of a good laugh made it more tolerable for us both. When the mustaches started to lose their stick I would put them on my cups, journals, anywhere I could just to keep the joke going. I may have been scolded for putting one on an IV bag.  

I received mustaches again as well as a red nose for “Red Nose Day,” on my last hospital visit.  And yes, that is a lei in my hair. I told you my room was luau themed. So fun!

5. Bring a meal. Little more effort and higher cost.  If your friend does not have dietary restrictions, the hospital food is not enticing.  Offer to bring tea, coffee, or a favorite meal from a restaurant to give your friend a break from the hospital menu.  A short chat is always nice too. This does require a little coordination, but your friend will appreciate it.

6. Plant or flowers.  Expensive. I always enjoy plants and flowers.  It’s a good idea to find out if your friend has already received a few plants or flower arrangements before you send one.  Hospital rooms aren’t very big. If too many people beat you to it, save the gesture for when your friend gets home and may not be getting out of the house much.

7. Dinner or Gift Cards for Spouse and Children. Expensive.  It is overwhelming for a spouse to take over full care of everything.  Not having to worry about getting a meal together is a much appreciated gesture.  Not a cook? Grubhub and DoorDash have electronic gift cards so the family can pick a restaurant and have food delivered on their own schedule.  Work friend? Gather a group to pitch in for a giftcard.  

Please keep in mind a generic, “Please let me know how I can help,”  will rarely be responded to with a request.  Someone going through a health crisis already feels burdensome and will be reluctant to ask for help that might be more than you intended to offer.  Awkward!

Assess your availability and resources and offer a specific idea such as, “I am going to the grocery store today, what can I pick up for you?”  or “We can take care of getting your child home from basketball on Monday.” Or, “I’m making a big batch of (insert whatever food) for my family and have plenty for your crew.  What is the best way to get that to you?”  

I am thankful every day for the incredibly thoughtful and generous people who support my family through our challenges.  The kindness you bestow on others, even with that quick text message, reminds them of their importance and value in this world.  Your thoughtfulness in supporting a friend is lovely and fills my heart with joy.  

Pay it forward!  Share your ideas and stories.  Comment below the ways in which you have given or received support from others.  There are as many clever ways to support a friend as there are people willing to do them!