Saturday, July 12, 2014

Here's how.

Without a doubt, the most popular question Jeramie and I have been asked over the past five years is, "How can I help?" On the day Ethan was born and we learned about his heart defect, our family and friends immediately sprang into action, even when we didn't know the answer to their question.

We have been loved very well, and in many different ways, over the years. I'm convinced that in a moment of crisis, a powerful desire wells up in each of us to respond and do something.  For a lot of people, though, figuring out exactly what to do can be a challenge.

"So, how can I help?"

Now that Ethan's next surgery is on the horizon, we've been asked this question daily. Our experience has taught us how to respond to others during their times of need and I've compiled a list of our most favorite gestures. My hope is that this list will help you answer that question -- as it pertains to our specific situation, or to any other medical crisis your loved ones may be facing.

1.  Prayers -- For our family, these are cries to the God of the Bible, in the name of His son, Jesus -- our redeemer and our rescuer.  Hearing that others are praying for our son -- our family -- is one of the most beautiful things I've experienced on this journey.  People stopping to pray with us, right where we are at that moment, is incredibly powerful.  I realize not everyone reading this trusts in the same God we do (or, any god for that matter), but if you tell someone you're going to pray for them, do it.

2.  Encouragement -- While not everyone will identify with God or prayer, anyone can be an encouragement to their friend or family member.  I cannot tell you how many times a simple note has shown up at just the right time and lifted our spirits.  It doesn't seem like a lot, but trust that that hug you want to give or that card you want to send will be much appreciated by its recipient.

The first of many handmade cards Ethan received during his hospital stay!

3.  Company -- If joking is appropriate in a stressful hospital environment (it can be!), then I can say that our entourage was often the joke of the waiting room.  We were never without company, and that is one of the fondest memories I have of Ethan's first hospital stay.  Of course, you'll need to clear this with your friend to ensure that there are no restrictions and that it's a good time to visit (some times just aren't), but a friendly face is wonderful medicine to a weary soul.  Even on the terrible days when I didn't want to speak a word, we had friends and family who sat with us in silence.  Not everyone is comfortable in the hospital setting, for various reasons, but if you can put on your brave face and spend some time with your friend, do it.

Waiting during Ethan's first open-heart surgery. This clown was annoyingly funny at just the right time.

4.  Food -- Anyone who has eaten in a hospital cafeteria for more than a day will tell you that food from "the outside" is like water in a dry land. We were lucky in that our family and friends were usually no more than a 35-minute drive from the hospital, and they burned some rubber on I-40 to bring us home-cooked meals! If you're not within food-delivery-distance, consider sending a gift card to a nearby restaurant.  Waiting-room-friendly snacks are also a big hit!

5.  Gas and Parking -- One would be amazed at how much driving back and forth to the hospital, and paying to park in their decks, can cost! Depending on the family's sleeping arrangements, family members may have to drive long distances to visit their loved one.  Jeramie and I were fortunate enough to have friends and family pay for housing for us at a nearby hotel, and even those 10-minute trips added up quickly.  Gas cards are a wonderful gift for someone making frequent trips to and from a hospital! Also, check with the hospital to see if they offer discounted parking passes.  Duke does this for their patients and it was a huge relief to hand the attendant a pre-purchased pass instead of our debit card!

6.  Household chores -- For a family facing an extended hospital stay, not having to worry about mundane household stuff is a huge relief! During the nine-and-a-half weeks we were at Duke with Ethan, we had friends wash our clothes, feed our then-cat, water our then-plant, and check our mail.  If your friends are far away from their home at their loved one's medical center, helping take care of their house is a must-do for them! Once they return back home (whether from a short or extended stay), a scheduled rotation of meals is extremely helpful for easing back into home-life.

A sweet home-coming after a long hospital stay.

7.  Gifts -- On the day Ethan was born, before we ever knew about his heart defect, he received the most precious stuffed monkey.  It went with us to Duke and quickly became a staple in this journey.  To this day, Ethan adores that monkey and you better believe it'll be with him during this next surgery! Gifts don't have to be elaborate (see #2); the smallest token of thoughtfulness can be such a day-brightener for a patient, young or old. You could also consider giving a gift to the caregivers. Extra-moisturizing lotion (to combat dry hospital air and lots of hand-washing) and a Starbucks gift card (to combat sleep deprivation) would be great additions to any care package!

A handful of gifts Ethan received during his first week of life.

For those facing long nights and days in a hospital, whether as a patient or a caregiver, a simple act of kindness goes a very long way. For those of you who have found yourself by a loved one's bedside day after day, what else would you add to this list?

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