Thursday, 10 November 2011

Advice for Hospital Visitors

As I am still in hospital, I feel well-placed to advise on things that would brighten my days while inpatient. People often tell me that they're not sure whether they should bring anything, and if so, what they should bring. I would like to make it crystal clear that your company is the best thing you could possibly give me, and I will be hugely grateful for the break in the monotony of the hospital day. But if you do feel like bringing something (or sending something if you're not able to visit), I've made a list of suggestions.

General tips (specific to me, but may also apply to others):

Most hospitals don't allow plants or cut flowers
Strong scents can set off breathing problems, either for me or for those around me
Space is limited, but hospitals tend to be ugly and boring and in need of decoration
I have gastroparesis and food allergies/intolerances, so there are lots of things that I can't eat at the best of times, which is exacerbated when I'm unwell.
Many hospitals don't have fridges or microwaves for patient use
My energy levels are pretty puny even when I'm well - please don't be offended if I doze on you. I promise I'm still grateful for your company!

So - wonderful things to bring:

1. A newspaper - I often feel cut off from the outside world while inpatient. The smaller, tabloid-sized papers are easier to handle. I don't mind if it's the free London paper (Metro or Evening Standard), or if it's yesterday's, or if you've already read it. In fact, I might even prefer it if you've read it so that you can point me in the direction of the best stories!

2. Email links to interesting news stories or blog posts, or just a chatty email/card.

3. A cup of nice (aka non-hospital) coffee. I drink soy or skinny latte (thanks for asking), or hot chocolate if you think that I might be in need of comfort. I love going out for coffee and rarely manage it, so having coffee brought to me in hospital is a real treat.

4. There are lots of things that I can't eat, and this list often increases when I'm unwell in hospital. However, chocolate always goes down well with the nurses! Most of my roomies have said that they crave fresh food that tastes of something - a fresh muffin from the coffee shop downstairs, a punnet of strawberries, deli snacks (e.g. hummous and breadsticks). A friend of mine brought me a mug and some herbal teabags, which was one of the nicest presents I've ever received. Sadly, I broke the mug, but I still think of Adam every time I drink jasmine tea!

5. Interesting drinks - I get cravings for diet coke and 7-up free, but Richard has brought fruit juices, smoothies and milkshakes, which have been much appreciated (and probably better for me, as they're not empty calories). A hilarious friend of mine once brought a bottle of Champagne and two glasses, which we drank while sitting on my hospital bed, gossiping and admiring the view over London - Big Ben, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. Can't imagine I'll ever repeat that experience, which makes it even more special!

6. Trashy fashion/celebrity/gossip magazines. I confess, they're about the level I can handle while in hospital!

7. Gel cling window decorations always brighten my day. Festive decorations (Christmas, Easter, Valentine's, etc.) are also welcome - spending holidays in hospital can be pretty miserable. Photographs of you, or of us together are a nice way to decorate the space. Don't forget the blu-tack!

8. Funny youtube videos to watch; recommendations for programmes on iPlayer/ITVplayer/4-OD.

9. Stories to tell - these don't need to be exciting. If I'm in hospital for asthma, I usually can't talk much without getting out of breath, so hearing about your day at work or your plans for the weekend is lots of fun for me.

10. Clothing - my dad always used to bring me brightly-coloured socks when I was in hospital as a child/teenager (I had quite a collection for a while!), but comfortable t-shirts or pyjamas would be well-received too.

11. Music (or recommendations on iTunes) - I spend a lot of time with headphones on, either watching TV or listening to music/radio.

12. Entertainment: Card or board games, puzzle books (e.g. sudoku, crosswords)

13. Things to make me feel attractive - hair ties, nail varnish, lipstick. A friend of mine came to visit me after I'd had surgery on both arms and was feeling a bit grotty - she tidied my hair and put make-up on for me. I can't tell you how much it improved my mood!

14. Practical things: shower gel, moisturiser, cleansing wipes.

15. Books to read (I really mean recommendations for my Kindle, as I'm not up to holding a real book for long these days) - nothing too hard on the brain. I'm not talking Dostoevsky or other Great Literature.

16. Small craft projects - I spend a lot of time knitting, but anything that occupies a few hours is a blessing.

17. Cups, mugs or straws: I have star-shaped bendy straws, which brighten the chore of drinking soluble medications or Ensure (bleuggh!). Many years ago, Richard gave me a pink plastic cup with fairies on it and a straw that curled up the outside. My fluid intake probably doubled as a result of that cup!

18. Jokes. The weaker the better. My brother is an absolute expert at this - we have been exchanging cheese-related jokes (and science jokes, but I won't bore you with those) for months now. What do you call a cheese that doesn't belong to you? Nacho cheese (not your cheese!)

19. Balloons. These are cheerful and colourful, and generally just wonderful!

20. A soft or colourful pillowcase, stuffed toy, microbead cushion or other tactile/cuddly thing.


Really and truly, your company (either real or virtual) lifts my spirits more than you could ever know. That text that took you about a minute to send brightened my mood for hours, and I read it at least ten times; the half hour that you spent chatting to me over a coffee helped me to get through the day, which was otherwise filled with pain, struggling for breath,etc. Hospital can be a very lonely place, and the days and nights can seem unbearably long, especially if symptoms are severe. You can't change any of the crazy tricks that my body is playing on me, but you can certainly help the way that I view my life.

This post was written as part of NHBPM - 30 health posts in 30 days:

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