Escaping for a moment, however briefly it may be, from the challenges of a major illness or injury can make the world of difference to the patient and their loved ones.
Whether you've been in the hospital for an extended period of time yourself, or staying bedside of a loved one, it doesn't make it any easier for the patient or the person bedside when it seems all you hear, day-in-and-day-out, is the doctors/nurses/specialists asking patients non-stop “how are you today? how are you feeling on a scale of 1 to 10”. Going from one test to the next, generally with little changed news, becomes a disheartening daily experience. I’m not saying it is not their job and they are not extremely busy. I’m just suggesting, from my own personal experience, that having a break or two from it all is beyond priceless.
I talk about this on a very personal level. I’ve wanted to share this for several months, but just didn’t have it in me to relive so many sad moments. Last year my husband became very ill. The first week in the hospital I thought I had lost him. Miraculously he came back. For 6 months we were in and out of hospitals, each time thinking I might lose him until the final stay, that lasted a month, over Christmas (oh, he SO wanted to go home!) and the New Year. We had great hope until the very end. It wasn’t meant to be.
When under such traumatic stress it seems every little thing was magnified ten-fold. My husband, Steve, had an amazing attitude. When the doctors or nurses came in and said, “how are you doing today?” Steve would muster responses such as “Great, how are you this lovely day?” or “Wonderful!” Those who had the honor of knowing this thoughtful, talented man can hear him no doubt! He was trying to lighten the day as much as he possibly could, as was his nature. After the hello ritual, the next in their regular routine was to ask him on a scale of 1 to 10 what his pain level was, etc. Even though he tried to keep positive, having done it so many times during the day, it got very tiring to focus so much on the negative.
So, how can we help lighten the mood and share some positive energy?
1) Make them a real human being! I tried to be there every time there was a shift change to be able to explain to the new doctor or nurse or nurse assistant or whoever, how amazing my husband was. You can imagine how hard it would be to look at someone who's sick and be able to see what a truly special human being they are. So, I wrote a large note describing my husband. I posted it on the wall above his head so that every time somebody would come and see him they were able to read a story about all the reasons he was so wonderful, what he meant to me and why they should work extra hard to help him heal.
2) Surround them with family. This idea came from my niece and it is truly amazingly brilliant! She created cutouts of a person and printed off a dozen or so of them, wrote a family member's name on each one and then customized each one to look like that individual family member. Whether it was glasses, curly hair, beards, skirts , etc. she tried to include something special that represented each person. She then taped them up on the wall, having them holding hands together. When the doctors and nurses came in to do the “Scale of 1 to 10 how are you feeling” for the umpteenth time that day they would look up and see Steve surrounded by his family. They would all be taken aback and say “Oh wow! What is all this?” and my husband got to say “That's my family and they love me”.
"3) Wrap them up in a “Healing Thoughts” Blankie by BlankieGram.com. I feel a little awkward in suggesting this next one because a friend and I own the company that sells and also provides free blankies to those facing life’s challenges through our Giving Back Matters program. However, I am very proud of our company and its mission - PLUS, this was Steve's favorite. When a nurse/specialist/doctor would come in and see Steve wrapped up in his blankies they would comment “Oh, my gosh, where did you get this? This is amazing! I've never seen one in my 10, 20, 30 years of practicing. This is awesome! What a wonderful thing you have wrapped around you”. This gives the patient a moment of respite to share who they got it from and what it means to them and it lightens up the mood even just for a moment. I can't tell you how important that is – for everyone!"
4) Opening mail. I never realized how important it could be to receive cards or, maybe even more importantly, just kind notes. Steve loved opening mail! He never seemed to care much about it at home, but he sure did when he was ill. Ask friends and family to write cheerful, uplifting notes (as many as possible) and mail them to you so you can share some each day. You can also use social media to reach out to your community to ask for mail. Not only did my Facebook Community keep me from feeling isolated for all those months, they responded ten-fold to my request for mail. If you are not connected through on-line social media, reach out to whatever organization you belong to, your church, your family and friends. Be sure to include the mailing address and ask for light, positive uplifting notes.
5) Decorate the room with bright and cheery items. I was surprised over Christmas how few people had holiday decorations up in their rooms. My brother and his wife came over and decorated my husband's room for Christmas - which was amazing! Again, all the hospital staff would comment how wonderful his room looked (we moved them 4 times as he was moved to different sections of the hospital) and you could tell they appreciated it as well!
6) Purposeful gratefulness. When someone is facing health challenges, maybe even life or death challenges, at times they can feel depressed and hopeless. This daily routine can make a real difference in their lives. Each morning and every evening before sleep time, encourage them to think of three things to be grateful for. It could be as simple as a smile they coaxed from a doctor, an upgrade from food restrictions, their family and friends, or experiences of the past and present.
7) Everyday decorations. Even when there's not a holiday, a room can be decorated to be cheery. A dear friend of mine made a beautiful pendant that said on Scrabble pieces “YOU ARE LOVED STEVE” and even though it was gorgeous, I truly believe it's the thought that counts the most. So, whether it 's crafted with beautiful fabric and ribbon or it's made with just paper and crayons, it doesn't matter. It's truly the thought that counts. You can make that person feel extra special just by making simple decorations.
8) Love of music. There were times when Steve just wasn't cognizant but he had a pained look on his face. There was a tightness between his eyebrows. He loved music so much that we set up a CD player that would play continually in a loop. We would play some of his favorite music softly and soon his pained look was gone. Even though his mind wasn’t “with us” at times, I knew it made a difference. We left notes on the player to be sure someone didn’t inadvertently turn it off.
9) Items of comfort. Although hospital had some kind of lights on most of the time (good or bad?) my husband loved nightlights. He had a slew of battery operated candles around the room. We just left them on all the time. He also had a small flashlight so he felt like he had some kind of control and could always see something at night if he wanted to.
10) Make it easy to reach out and touch someone. There were times when Steve couldn’t dial a phone (complications of getting an outside line along with confusion). Get your phone guru to program their smartphone to have a picture of the person they want to call on their desktop and when they touch it it automatically dials the number. (My brilliant brother’s idea!) Although I only left Steve when I needed to walk our dog or sleep, knowing that he could call me at any time made him rest easier, and me, too!
I hope you will find these suggestions helpful if you are faced with a life crisis.