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Helping after the Hospital: 10 things YOU can do

Something caught my eye on Twitter the other day. Actually, a lot catches my eye on Twitter because it’s so fast paced and dense, but in a distinctly different theme from the current barrage of tweets about politics and, well, more politics, a Canadian colleague of mine tweeted about ways to provide support and assistance to people who have just had their child discharged from the hospital. This isn’t something we talk about very much, but we probably should.

If you’ve been following and reading along with me here for a little bit, you might recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of follow up after an acute care visit.

In spirit, we all can get behind that, right? Now that I work primarily in the community in which I live, my wheels have continued to turn about the topic of ongoing medical management after an emergency to clinical resolution and return to health, since I’ve had more of a front row seat to witness how tricky that seemingly simple process frequently is.  I’ve spent nearly all of my career in pediatric emergency medicine where that “after-care” component wasn’t really in my lane, so branching out in this way is something a bit nouveau for me, and I’m finding that I wish I’d spent more reflection time on it before now. But no time like the present, so here we go.

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Imagine for a moment (or maybe you’ve experienced it), the stress of being an inpatient with your child.

Hospitals aren’t really hotels, are they, and so usually even in the best of all circumstances it’s an exhausting and stressful time, leaving aside the gravity of whatever medical situation is going on. Waiting for tests and clinical improvement in a room where you sleep on a vinyl recliner and might not consume the greatest diet is hardly conducive to anyone’s health and well being. I’ve noticed that as a general rule people totally rally during that inpatient time: neighbors get the mail, parents in the other child’s class volunteer playdates, and somehow the dog gets walked. And while everyone is joyful at the signing of those discharge papers given the clinical improvement that it signifies, for many people that’s where the hard work starts, or at the very least continues. Once you get home it’s back to the full cadre of daily responsibilities. Pile on any follow up care for a recovering child plus parental work missed, and who can even begin to think about the mountain of laundry that needs to get done.

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Most people won’t ask for help, but this may be a key period when our various villages really SHOULD step up to the plate and fill in a few blanks.

Could we all decide to increase our awareness about this? A smart general pediatrician I know asserts that instead of saying “how can I help?”we could offer up a list of tasks that would offload the burden on the caregiver, and let them select what they need. It’s easy to imagine that an overwhelmed person might not even be able to wrap their head around what needs to be done, so presenting a pick list removes that obstacle altogether.

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A few suggested items to put on the list—-

  1. A few meals prepared, or a gift card to a local restaurant that does carry out
  2. Do their grocery shopping
  3. Some housecleaning help
  4. Laundry, and more laundry
  5. Pet care
  6. Chauffeuring other kids to extracurricular activities
  7. Sit and listen to whatever they need to talk about
  8. Pick up prescriptions
  9. Serve as the “spokesperson” for the family: offer to be the point person to share desired updates/news with others so they don’t feel constantly peppered with calls and questions about what’s going on.
  10. Collect missed schoolwork if applicable.

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I think it’s also worth it to ask if the caregiver would like phone calls or texts, or not.

At some point in the aftercare a “family spokesperson” will no longer be needed (if ever deployed at all) and yet some people just may not want to receive phone calls but text messages would be fine. I know for me personally in some situations I’d rather receive a text than a call.

As for how long a caregiver may need support and assistance in these areas, no doubt that’s an individual determination and it surely depends on what kind of care is required post-hospital and what else is going on at home. But I have no doubt that if the caregiver has some secondary care her/himself, everyone will get better quicker. Count me in for a tray of lasagne and a solid vacuuming.

And here’s to the earliest possible return to back to the normal healthy routine. For all!