Last week I wrote “8 things to do when you visit a friend in the hospital” – I’m glad I did because some people are interested in this (from my search engine referrals). This week I’m writing about how to pack a “Visiting Basket.” Actually, it could be a paper bag, a cardboard box, whatever – baskets were affordable and easy to carry ; although if I could carry things now I would have probably upgraded to one of those nice collapsible shopping baskets you can tote to the supermarket. Use whatever is convenient for you.
The VB (Visiting Basket) is useful in many contexts, so this post is about any kind of visit – not just hospital-based. There are 2 main visit types: (1) The Illness Visit – if your friend is sick; setting = any medical facility or at home, and (2) the Friendly Visit – this is the kind of visit I’d indulge in when I had the (partial) day off or an available Saturday. I say “indulge” because it’s fun to go visit your friends. This is a happy fringe benefit. Just remember, though, that the primary goal of any visit is to focus on the person you’re visiting. You’ll need to practice your people-reading and conversation skills, though, since often times a sick person wants to talk/think about something – ANYTHING – except illness, but you also want to give them a chance to express their feelings on the subject if they wish. Be a good listener, but be prepared to gently guide the conversation (making them laugh is always a good tactic) should it start to get too Eeyore-ish (woe is me – I’ve got the doldrums). Good listening is the primary rule in Friendly Visits, too – setting = at home, a restaurant, or at a friend’s place of work (verify appropriateness beforehand). Use this time to catch up on what’s going on – all the craziness of running a home/earning a living – and you’re there to offer a bright spot in a hectic day. Just be aware of the periphery – things might be going on in the surrounding environment that require your friend’s attention – let your friend go attend to (mini) emergencies without feeling any angst over not attending to you, the guest. You want to be an encouragement, not a hindrance.
I’m writing this even though this stuff seems kind of obvious since I think visitation might be a bit of a dying art. Visitation (I’ve heard it referred to as “Care Work,” too) was definitely a learned behavior for me. I learned it from my Mom and “Grandma” and my visiting practices were made easier since I have no family to care for and could direct my time independently. But remember, I learned how to do this from women with family/home responsibilities. Apparently it’s more than possible – it just might take some additional ingenuity and logistical planning. Finally, the art of Visitation is gender neutral. I approach it from a feminine perspective, but I remember J(&O)’s brother, S, as being a prolific visitor – and he was only in our area for a few months, if I recall. Well done, S!
But perhaps you know no one who “visits” in your community. So it’s up to you to start – you can do it! It’s worth it. I had no idea this would happen to me, but the relationships I built through many years of visiting (just hanging around with my friends, really) were the reason dear ones dropped everything and flew across the country to see me when I got sick, and I found out that many more people had my back as they reached out to their networks to ask their friends to pray for me. (Thank you xoxoxo.) Even in the absence of such extreme circumstances, visitation is a good skill to have since it’s a practical mark of good friendship, and sharpens your “people touch” as you learn how to listen/respond/interact, which is something always desirable in a management position at work, and also just getting what you need done at the office, at home – anywhere. So if you’re new at this, recruit a friend to help you think of things to bring/say. You can tell your friend his/her job is to help facilitate conversation, and then go for it! The more you visit the more natural it will feel – and if you recruit another visitor you just raised the “easy” level a few notches. Goal = not to feel like you’re paying a formal “visit” – you’re just going to go see a friend.
Okay, on to things to bring:
1) Decoration: There might be rules to observe if you’re going to a hospital, e.g. fresh flowers were not allowed in the ICU when I was there. I received a gorgeous paper bouquet from my friend S and her little sister, D, also a brain surgery survivor.
There is usually a bulletin board in the hospital room, so you can cover it with fun wrapping paper. If you’re going to someone’s home, a gift like a candle-wrapped flameless pillar would be nice and easy. One of these would also be cheerful and safe in the hospital.
2) Music: Sometimes words fail but music can help. Try keeping an old mp3 player loaded with nice soothing, encouraging music (nothing too rowdy, please) that you can bring to your friend if in the hospital. Clean the unit, especially the earphones/buds at home and assure your friend it’s been sanitized. If you have a portable mini “plug ‘n play” speaker, bring it. Leave these items with your friend, if possible. Just make sure it’s something you’re comfortable leaving at the hospital for a few days. Your friend will likely store it in a drawer, but it probably won’t be locked up at night, and in any situation there is always a risk of things being lifted. So assure your friend that it’s fine to store this stuff in a drawer (you don’t want to stress them out by making them guard your equipment), and also make sure they know how to work the player and are not intimidated by the technology. Side note: I have been bidding on old iPods for this purpose on eBay for MONTHS. The problem is twofold – A) I’m cheap and B) my brain is foggy sometimes so I can never remember to swoop in at the end of an auction and win the bid. Oh, well. When I do get some I will load them with public domain songs, things I’ve gotten from Amazon or iTunes, sermons I’ve found helpful, and of course an audio version of the Bible – amazingly available free of charge.
3) A Picture Book: Sometimes reading can be too taxing on the eyes, but a large picture book is safer. The patient can peruse while alone in his/her room, and Mrs. R told me once that her nurses really enjoyed the book I had brought her, too. I think it was either a pictorial history of the dress, a discourse on the House of Worth, or a coffee-table book of the evolution of the Princess of Wales’ wardrobe – whatever it was, it was easy to look through, and I’m glad it was a starting point for the nurses to talk with Mrs. R – who is always personable and charming, but it’s always nice to have a ready topic at hand. You could also bring a small photo book. A long time ago I visited Mrs. MA’s mom, Mrs. P, with RSKL and she brought a little photo album for show and tell. It facilitates conversation and is an object of interest – just be sure to bring a relatively small album or book so as not to overwhelm your friend. Side note: I did not have the opportunity to know Mrs. P very well, but I wish I could have known her better. She was the driving force behind the organization of our Sunday School back in the day, and understanding that people older than you have done lots of interesting and important things is an excellent reason to encourage young ones to learn how to visit.
4) Reading Material: You can bring real books or magazines for your friend to read, or you can read aloud to them. Put your thinking cap on and consider their preferences as you make your selections.
5) Snacks: I received many lovely baskets and food items during my inpatient life. A standout gift was the birthday basket J&O sent me. There were lots of nice treats, but the fresh fruit was literally a dream come true. (I had been dreaming of the fruit pyramids in P&P when I couldn’t eat yet, and I was desperate for some fruit.) Fruit is refreshing and a good option – just be mindful of dietary restrictions, e.g. sugar, acid. If there are no allergies, nuts are good, too. If you’re going to go all out, bring baked goods – I would do this more often in a Friendly Visit. You can always give your friend the little box of cookies/cupcakes and it’s up to them to consume them later, but it’s more complicated in the hospital because you want to bring “healthy” things to the hospital, your patient may or may not want to eat “healthy” things, and family members/caretakers might disagree with your definition of “healthy” – so be careful. But I mention it since food is always good.
6) Tea-time: I used to wrap a couple of tea-cups in a dishtowel, stick a thermos of piping hot tea in there, and show up in different contexts with a party. You didn’t even have to add water – you just needed a place to sit. I transported cream and sugar in little containers. (Include spoons for stirring.) This might seem a bit fussy, but I like china and teacups, and will use proper china at every opportunity (even if it’s a stretch). I also knew that when I visited I was often inserting myself into my friend’s busy day, and it was an effort to take a break and see me, so I figured it was worth the effort to pack the teacups to signal that I appreciated visiting with them and considered it a special occasion. I don’t remember ever bringing teacups to the hospital, but I did bring teacups to the doctor’s office waiting room and to the workplace (e.g. sometimes I’d go see my teacher friends at school). The logistical key to this is the packing – use dishtowels you’re okay with getting tea-stained, and plan on doing laundry when you get home. Choosing a more robust teacup (I’m partial to Spode blue and white, NOT cranberry, Mommy) as opposed to transporting fine bone china might ease your anxiety. Alternatively, pick up some fun pieces from Goodwill – they could either be fancy or everyday dishware – just choose something with a saucer.
7) Grooming Items: If you’re visiting a friend in the hospital, hair/nail needs might require attending to, if you’re both comfortable with that. (I would not recommend cutting anything unless you are a professional.) If you’re visiting a lady who likes colored polish you can get polish in the appropriate “Awareness” color. You’re less likely to do grooming activities in a Friendly Visit, but some sugar scrub or nice-smelling lotion is always a lovely gift.
8) Personal Coupon Book: I’ve actually never done this, but I think it’s a fabulous idea and would TOTALLY do it if I wasn’t, you know, impaired like I am. Rig up a “Personal Coupon Book” and give it to your friend. It could include things like, “One dinner, delivered by Xpm,” “An afternoon of childcare at my house or yours, while you run errands” or “a Coffee date with ME! Pastries not optional. I’ll drive.” The possibilities are endless. If your friend is the kind of person who would never redeem a coupon like this, it might be good to specify something like, “If unredeemed by Xdate, I’ll deliver dinner to your house on Saturday, [date, Xpm].”
PS. I got so distracted by “How to get a heart ‘transplant’” yesterday that I forgot to tell you that my Vision Therapy graduation went well. Everyone was as nice as they always are and I only cried a couple of times (in private, at home). This was a vast improvement over the last time I was discharged from therapy. To celebrate I practiced the piano by playing from the hymn book this morning.
If you missed Part 1: activity-based visiting is an easy way to start!