Help me support my friend during a scary time
June 26, 2008 8:46 AM   Subscribe

My good friend's young son will be having heart surgery in a few weeks. It's expected to go well, but it's still terrifying for everyone. I want to do something for her to let her know I care, but I'm coming up blank. She and her husband have plenty of family in the area so I'm sure they'll be handling meals, etc. The children's hospital is nearby so they won't be staying in a hotel or anything. Have any of you been through something like this? What helped you out during hours in the waiting room? (The irony is, I have young sons myself so I should be able to put myself in her place, but the whole idea of being in her place scares me so much I can hardly think about it.)
posted by _Mona_ to Human Relations (6 answers total)
A long time ago, when I was 13, my best friends brother was sick with a brain tumor. He was in the hospital a lot before he died. My best friend spent many a night at my house. My suggestion, if this boy has siblings, is to take them to your house for dinner and a sleepover. It takes the burden off the family and it keeps the sibling somewhat sheltered from the scary medical things. The parents will be relieved to not have to worry about the other kids.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:23 AM on June 26, 2008

Perhaps you can spend a little time with them in the waiting room? I've never been in this situation, but if I were in their shoes, I would greatly appreciate some supportive company.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:27 AM on June 26, 2008

I've been volunteering in a surgery waiting room for several years. Some people want to be quiet and just sit, alone or maybe with their immediate family. Others rally the troops and come in with their 10 closest friends. Some people nap. Lots of them read the super-old magazines we have laying around. A few play cards or board games. There's really no way to predict what someone will want while they're waiting, without knowing that particular person. But I think it would be very nice of you to offer to hang out with them while they're in the waiting room.

The doctor will most likely come out to talk to them after the surgery. During your waiting time, ask them if they want you to stick around for the doctors report. Some people would like the moral support, while others would prefer to have the health details kept private. Still others would like to talk to the doctor alone, but would love for you to stick around so they can see a friendly face again afterward. It's nice to figure this stuff out before the doctor appears, so there's not a mad rush of confusion as everyone tries to figure out what the other person wants.

If there are other kids who will have to endure hours in the waiting room, definitely offer coloring books, cards, a dvd to play (with headphones, please!) on a laptop, or something else to keep them from going completely insane. I'm always amazed when children are able to behave even remotely well when they've been sitting in a room full of mostly-silent, obviously stressed out adults for several hours.
posted by vytae at 9:54 AM on June 26, 2008

I haven't been through quite the same thing, but I do remember the long hours in the waiting room while my father had heart surgery. For me, having an easy, distracting book (think beach read: anything more complex wouldn't have held my attention) was key. A bunch of magazines would probably have been good, too. For my mom, having a friend there with her (other than me) meant a lot to her.

Depending on how much you want to spend, another thought is a portable DVD player. I don't think they're terribly expensive, and the daytime television playing in the waiting room will be awful. Also, the seats in the waiting room will probably be terribly uncomfortable, especially for long hours and when she is already tense. Perhaps a travel pillow, like those you see people with on airplanes, would be nice for her.
posted by amro at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2008

I would say, send a card/give a phone call just before to ask what she needs (company, just some prayers, whatever), and then visit/lavish attention/send meals/flowers/cards/games for the kid, whatever is appropriate in two-three weeks. This is the kind of thing that is going to be hard for more than just that day, and I always find coming down a few weeks later when the immediate attention is off the hardest. Just a thought.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:33 AM on June 26, 2008

My standard advice for hospital visits is that you buy them a notebook to keep detailed notes on what the doctors and nurses say. Buy a pen and attach it to the notebook. On the first page make 3 columns - Date/Time, Person, Notes.

The doctors come and tell you things. Then an hour later another doc comes in and says something else. It's easy to get confused or forget. Or the doctor said, the surgery will take 3 hours - when did he say that? Surely we've been here 5 hours - what's happening!?! It can all be overwhelming. When you're sitting there and no information is coming out of the operating room reading your notes can be a comfort.
posted by 26.2 at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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