What to take to family waiting at hospital
January 20, 2011 10:59 AM   Subscribe

What comforting, convenient items can I take to family waiting in hospital with critically ill family member in ICU?

I'm joining my extended family who are waiting, advocating for, a critically ill adult sister/daughter in ICU with a still undiagnosed illness. There's a lot of stress and fear, and 1 to 4 family members, all adult are camping at the hospital at any given time. They're hip, wired, tired, they call it a "nightmarish" situation, mainly due to uncertainty, and seriousness of her condition. They are keeping concerned friends and relatives informed via FB using Blackberry. I want to bring a few things that may make their time there easier... I don't want to ask them as they are already overwhelmed with questions, researching symptoms, advocating for her, and exhausted. I'm planning on taking magazines, some fruit, healthy snack bars. Ideas?
posted by mumstheword to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Puzzle books, lots of them - engaging but will take their mind off the situation.
posted by jbickers at 11:00 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Basic toiletries. Some cheap toothbrushes, toothpaste, face soap, that kind of thing. The sort of stuff you'd want if you were spending many hours away from home and feeling grimy enough that you'd like to take a shower, but don't want to leave.
posted by phunniemee at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

sitting in a hospital waiting room right now, i'd say water. they only have dinky cups right here, like you used when you were 3 to brush your teeth with.

puzzle books are a great idea (soduku, crosswords, etc). depending on the hospital you don't want to bring something that needs to be spread out too much, in case it is packed (for other folks).

maybe some yummy sandwiches, too. hospital food varies depending upon the hospital. if they have been there for a long time, maybe refreshing towlettes, toothpaste and brushes (if they ran there in a crisis), etc.? hand lotion and other soothers.
posted by anya32 at 11:06 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Blankets and pillows, with the offer to refresh them when needed. Hospital blankets aren't the best, usually, and something warm and comfy was great when my father-in-law was in the ICU.
posted by cooker girl at 11:10 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

A nice fruit cocktail and the stuff you've mentioned may be welcome but situations like this can often rob people of the ability to concentrate or enjoy simple comforts. It may be worthwhile to ask if any of them need anything they may have forgotten at home. Offer to do a coffee/food run when you get there.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Snacks and hand-wipes (sanitizers).


I imagine they just want to stay close to the situation and they probably have their hands full with getting information, communicating updates, and researching.
posted by mazola at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2011

I've spent some time hanging out in hospitals, and the puzzle books and freshen uppers are a great idea. I've also found that hospitals tend to be pretty cold. It might be nice to bring a couple sweatshirts in case anyone gets chilly. If everyone is warm enough, they also double as emergency pillows. I find soft, warm things extremely comforting.

Best wishes to you and your family.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:13 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good coffee, and good soap. The soap and coffee at hospitals are disgusting.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:15 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any sort of homemade food is a relief after days of takeout and vending machines.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:22 AM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Along with the great suggestions above, definitely some substantial food like sandwiches, soup in thermoses etc. When my mom went through a long surgical procedure and my step-dad and I were sitting around a hospital for several days, eating the cafeteria food (which was decent for what it was) was awful.
posted by Kimberly at 11:31 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding blankets/sweatshirts/general woobies (hospitals are freezing), and definitely some hand lotion. My husband was in the ICU for a month in 2009 with swine flu, and all the (mandated) hand sanitizer dried my skin out. It was a minor issue, but an extra irritant when I didn't need one.
posted by timetoevolve at 11:35 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hot, steamy washcloths would be awesome, if they could be somehow arranged.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:44 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

food - they'll say they're not hungry but the food will disappear rapidly once it's brought out. try to bring something warm, something that smells good.
posted by nadawi at 11:45 AM on January 20, 2011

Seconding bringing hot food (homemade mac & cheese, Indian takeout, soup, etc.), if at all possible.
posted by rebekah at 11:48 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

A deck of cards.
A portable DVD player and some DVDs.
Vegetable tray. I find crunchy foods soothing when I'm stressed. Gives me something else to do with my jaw other than clenching it and veggies are better than junk food.
Oranges. Gives people something to do with their hands and a nice shot of Vitamin C.
Notebooks and pens. For writing down what the doctor says so you remember and so you can relay it to other people. Also good for killing time by playing games or keeping score.

It's also a tradition in my family that if somebody is in the hospital you bring them supermarket tabloids. The trashier the better. The short, superficial articles are good for a brain that can't concentrate on anything very well. It might work for your situation too.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:57 AM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all SO much!! There were so many great ideas in all of the answers I won't try to pick a favorite. But my list of things to gather before I go is much more comprehensive than it would have been. Again, thank you!
posted by mumstheword at 12:21 PM on January 20, 2011

When I was in one of these situations I bought one of those multi-phone chargers from a supermarket when I desperately needed a charge and left it behind for others to use.

I also did a whole load of puzzles, I found the physical activity calmed me down much more than a sudoku or something.
posted by chrispy108 at 12:24 PM on January 20, 2011

Depends how well you know them, but a change of clothes was one of the things I appreciated most when I spent 9 days at the hospital with my daughter.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:51 PM on January 20, 2011

This depends on your fiscal abilities, A cheap hotel room closest to the hospital would be awesome of they live more then a half hour away. The ability to sneak away for 10 min and take a shower and refresh would most likely go really well.

The most important thing is having someone there who is not too close to the person in trouble. You want to be the person that can step out and grab items from home, a bite to eat or whatever they need. Having someone who will not feel guilty for leaving for an hour to grab lunch for everyone is awesome.

I worked in a gym really close to a major hospital that people with large problems would fly across the US to go to. We would have people show up about once a month looking for a shower, they just wanted to take a shower because they had been living in a hospital for three weeks. We actually kept soap and shampoo on hand when these people stopped by, it was always an easy answer every time we were asked. And our small act of kindness put most people who stopped by into tears. They just wanted to feel like normal clean people again.

Long story short the best thing you can bring is yourself. Always look for where a need is and do your best to fill it without asking or complicating things.

posted by Felex at 1:04 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can you provide or arrange for any services so they don't have to think about/do them? Laundry, dog-walking, etc.

Take a look in the gift shop and see what things strike your fancy. Then go get better versions of them outside the gift shop :) The stuff they'll have will probably be useful but a) cheap and b) have the hospital's name all over it. (I'm remembering the number of things we bought that said FROEDTERT all over them when my former MIL was in the ICU.)

Nice big water bottles.

Along those lines, anything that can help people tidy up quickly. Others have mentioned toothpaste, etc., but how about cardigans or zip-up jackets that can cover wrinkled/dirty clothing you've been wearing for 15 hours; extra t-shirts; small brushes and hair bands; a hat or two...

Magazines are great, but after the 15th issue of People or Better Homes and Gardens, a book might be good. If you think they'd be up for books, look for things with short chapters so the readers don't have to concentrate and can easily stop after a few pages.

Extra chargers for cell phones = great.

Cheese sticks, or other things that have protein. Anything that's not cheap, empty calories (so much of what's available at or near hospitals is just pure carbs, and that can make you feel sluggish even in the best of situations).

Don't forget about a CarePage or CaringBridge page. You can update it and let people know what's going on/let people leave messages of support so you don't have to make so many calls/e-mails every time something happens. At least one of them is password-protected, so you can make it fairly private if you need to.
posted by Madamina at 1:32 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've brought friends-in-hospital-waiting-rooms books before and been profusely thanked. Easy, engaging, funny books that will take their mind off what's going on. David Sedaris has been good for this (not "Naked", that's about his mother's death! But Barrel Fever, Me Talk Pretty Some Day...) Augusten Burroughs falls into a similar category; my favorite is Possible Side Effects.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2011

I just spent the better part of a week tending to a family member in the ICU, and wound up with interminable thirst, dry skin, and chapped lips. Hospitals can be extremely dry places, especially in winter. So I recommend:

- Water and other fluids, ideally in refillable containers of some sort so that they can be replenished at will.
- Hand/face cream.
- Lip balm.
posted by googly at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2011

When we had to camp for a week at the hospital with our 6 week old here is what we had or people brought:'

1. toiletries helped. Hospital toiletries suck
2. Change of clothes/underwear
3. books, magazines, puzzles
4. laptop so we could FB statuses of his condition
5. DVD for laptop
6. I didn't like leaving the first time but the last time, less serious we took a break and went to a restaurant across the street. More serious time we ordered in, again hospitals suck (see if you can order food for them)
7. Definately lotion (part of toiletries) because if you use their stuff it dries you out big time
8. Depending on the cognition of the patient, toys/games for them. It helped keep my son less upset. Agian, I'm not sure the condition if this is possible.
9. Definately healthy snacks. I craved fruit, milk, juice. And vitamins since stress = not eating well.

I'm so sorry they are going through this. And your presence helps too. Both times it was just me and DH. No one visitied. It kind of sucked.
posted by stormpooper at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Resolved--Thanks to each of you for your thoughtful answers, my time at the hospital was better than without the ideas you offered...and helped me to remember that I was there to support the people closer and more emotionally involved with my niece as well as for her and myself. BTW, she is gradually improving and I feel like I've established a closer connection with several people as a result of being there.
posted by mumstheword at 1:22 PM on February 19, 2011

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