How To Be A Good Friend For Someone Who’s Caring For A Child In The Hospital


I wanted to share this great post from a good friend’s blog about ways you can help a friend with a sick child.  Courtney has three quite adorable children and is very conscientious about the choices she makes for them.  She is also no stranger at their local hospital and has had a couple of experiences with her children that has put her at the receiving end of others’ care.  Her first child, Elle, was stillborn.  At the time they were living out of state from the rest of their family and had to rely in part on the friends around them.  Over the last seven years, Maggie (7), Finn (3), and Carolina (2), were born.  Finn was born with a rare disorder in which his body is unable to process proteins properly.  It’s often misdiagnosed at birth and many children die because of this.  Thankfully, the doctors at Vanderbilt diagnosed him in what ended up being just hours before it became deadly.  Needless to say, Courtney and her husband, Grant, have been frequent visitors to the ER and have spent many days in the hospital over the last three years.  Here are some things that you can do to best care for a friend with a sick child.

I know, this is the longest post title ever, isn’t it? I just couldn’t think of a shorter way to say it! We recently came home from being in the hospital with Finn, who was hospitalized the day after Thanksgiving due to a stomach bug. Because of Finn’s Isovaleric Acidemia, he is hospitalized several times a year (always courtesy of GI viruses), and we feel like pretty seasoned hospital veterans now. I was thinking about how much easier it’s gotten (don’t get me wrong, it’s still very difficult on Finn and the entire family) and what has made it easier. Finn’s age has definitely made a difference, as he’s now old enough to watch a movie or quietly read books or play games in his bed, but we are also really fortunate to have friends and family in our community who reach out to Finn and our family at these tough times. I wanted to share because people have thought to do things for us that I’m not sure I would have thought of, and I hope that this blog post could be helpful to someone else.

(Here’s Finn this past week, attempting to eat a meal and keep it down!)

1. Bring a meal for the parent. Vanderbilt is a wonderful, amazing place, but the food court is pretty dreadful. There’s Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, a Subway-type restaurant, Ben & Jerry’s (okay, that one is awesome), and a mediocre coffee bar. Even if the food was amazing, it would get old fast. Finn receives meals from the hospital, but there isn’t any food brought for whichever parent is staying with him. Secondly, I know that when we’re at the hospital with Finn we never want to leave him alone in his room. When he gets older this probably won’t be an issue, but I can’t imagine leaving a sick 3-year-old all alone in a hospital room. A meal or coffee from some place outside the hospital is such a gift. We’ve had people bring us care packages with treats from a local bakery, or granola bars and fruit, and that’s a blessing, too. Once my dear friend, Jill, brought coffee and breakfast from a super yummy coffee shop and threw in a muffin and a scone for later, and another time my sister, Erin, brought a healthy salad and then kept me company for a little bit while I ate. It doesn’t take a lot, but it makes a huge difference.

2. Pray. Don’t just say you’re going to pray and then forget about it (I’ve certainly done that before!). We’ve had times of being in the hospital with Finn where we could actually feel that people were praying for us. It’s amazing when that happens. When Finn was first hospitalized as a newborn I remember driving home from the hospital with my friend Tiffany and saying, “It’s really strange but I feel particularly close to God during this wild time” and she replied, “That’s exactly what I’ve been praying for you.” You have no idea how much it really means to a parent but it’s huge, and even if you can’t do anything else, you can pray.

3. Offer childcare for the non-hospitalized children. Fortunately Grant usually is able to take sick or vacation time to stay with Finn in the hospital and I usually take care of Carolina and Maggie when Finn’s hospitalized, but when he was hospitalized last March, Grant just happened to be filming in California. If my mom and step-dad hadn’t been able to keep Maggie and Carolina, I don’t know what I would have done. Another friend was able to pick Maggie up from school and keep her until my mom could get there. This is especially helpful if it’s a longer hospitalization. Luckily Finn’s usually only in the hospital for 36-48 hours, but I can only remember how difficult the logistics were for his multi-week hospitalization.

(Here’s Finn, chilling in bed. He slept for about six hours during the day on the day he was released from the hospital!)

4. Offer childcare for the hospitalized child. I know this probably seems strange but the hospital room can get very small very quickly. If the parents are like me and Grant, they probably don’t want to leave their child at all. I’ve had a few trusted friends and family who were willing to sit in the room with Finn for 15 minutes to an hour so that Grant or I could take a little walk or do something else that helps our mental health. When Finn was a newborn and was hospitalized for three weeks I remember my mom stayed with him so Grant and I could eat dinner with Maggie, who we were really missing, and one night my sister, Lindsay, even stayed overnight with him so that the three of us could have one night at home together (after weeks of sleeping apart).

5. Check in with them to see how the child (and the parent) is doing. It’s nice to have little texts throughout the day from friends and family checking in. Don’t be offended if the parent doesn’t respond right away (or at all). The hospital sometimes feels like a black hole – time passes in strange ways, and sometimes it’s just not possible to respond quickly. A caveat – you might want to check to see if they have unlimited texts. We now have unlimited texts but up until about six months ago, we didn’t, so my texting plan would quickly reach its maximum, and then all those lovely texts would just add up quickly!

6. Give/loan a movie, book, toy, coloring book, etc., to the child. Vanderbilt has some pretty great amenities for the children, like play rooms, a toy library where toys can be checked out, and special programs, like visiting zoo animals, magicians, etc. Even with all that, sometimes a child could use a little more. We seem to be hospitalized on holidays quite often (Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving) when there are fewer activities and Child Life staff, so we actually have done very few of those with Finn. I’m also pretty sensitive to him either spreading or catching another illness, so I hesitate a bit about the play rooms and gatherings. Friends have brought coloring books for Finn and loaned movies for him to watch and he’s really enjoyed that.

7. Offer to run an errand. We’ve gotten pretty good at packing a hospital bag but we still forget things occasionally. For example, this past hospitalization I realized I had forgotten to pack some of Finn’s medicines. We always take his formula and medications with us because they’re so rare that sometimes the hospital doesn’t have them. It’s easier to have them with us, just in case. My brother-in-law, Jim, picked up the medicine from our house and brought it to us at the hospital, and we were so thankful.

(It could have been the medication, but he was making some silly faces on this day!)


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