A: Yes, the hospital pillow. Which is only trumped by the #1 universal answer of all times: hospital food. Here's what I know with absolute certainty. If every country on the planet was on the brink of war, I could walk into the United Nations Building, stroll up to the podium and I could command immediate universal agreement with the following phrase: "Is there anything worse than hospital food?". There would not be one ounce of dissent in the room. Everyone would agree. There would be complete harmony in the room for 1 golden minute, and then they could all get back to chatting about the need for world peace. BUT I DIGRESS.
If you have asked any patient who has been in the hospital, the only thing worse than hospital food, is those 3 dreaded letters....NPO, which means in medical speak "nothing by mouth". No food, no water, and you have to beg and plead your nurse just to give you an ice chip stuck to a spongestick to suck on. But this is a discussion for another day.
Bottom line: it sucks to be a patient in the hospital....and the longer you are in the hospital, the harder it is.
No one ever knows what to bring as a gift to cancer patients in the hospital. Flowers and potted plants are out. The reason? They can contain bacteria and a lot of cancer patients have compromised immune systems and low white blood cell counts. This makes them more susceptible to getting an infection (more on this another day). Just know that no plants or flowers are allowed on most inpatient cancer units.
They may not have any appetite or they may have mouth sores which makes it painful to eat. So, yes it is sometimes hard to know what to bring them for a gift.
So here are a few suggestions to bring to your loved one with cancer whether they are in or out of the hospital. Perhaps make a basket up and put them all in it!! Keep in mind that space is REALLY limited in the patient's room, so try not to bring in things that take up a lot of space.
Update 12/27/13: Some hospitals have policies in place now in regards to preventing the transmission of MRSA-methicillin resistant staph aureus (a type of community and hospital acquired infection) where they won't allow pillows or blankets brought in from home.
My advice is to: 1) check with nursing staff for the hospital policy on this, and/or 2) bring in the new pillow in it's original packaging so the hospital staff knows it is new and safe for patient and hospital both. I wouldn't go top of the line cost on the pillow, as you may have to jettison the pillow when the patient goes home. You don't want to bring any other type of hospital "bugs" home with the patient. Also, wash anything you bring home from the hospital well.
Heart Shaped Stickey Post-it Notes. You can't put tape all over the walls of the hospital or the nurses will get pissed (it takes the paint off the walls). I use these whenever one of my patients is admitted. Just hang them up or cover the wall in them. Friends, family and staff can write encouraging messages on them. For $2 this is a great way to brighten their day!
Print out copies of pictures of family, friends and pets on regular paper to hang in the patient's room.
Use these post it flags instead of tape to put them on wall. These can be easily removed when the patient goes home. Make sure you get the fat kind as the thin ones don't hold.
If the patient is at home and not in the hospital, give actual prints of photos in frames or books.
Offer to give the cancer patient a mini-pedicure (no real exfoliation or pumice stone if they are in the hospital). Even just applying a nice soft cream to their feet and perhaps a little polish (one that doesn't have a strong smell) might give them a little boost and it will feel great. 2 good creams:
Elizabeth Grady Feet First Cream
Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Cream
Battery Operated Tea Lights. Placed inside a little luminary or any small votive candle holder (that you would normally use for a real votive candle), can make the hospital room more "homey". Acts as a nice little nightlight. Maybe just enough light so the nurse doesn't need to turn on one of the harsher lights, which usually awakens the patient. This would be more for the patient who has a lengthy (stem cell transplant) stay planned.
Hard candies (Lemonheads are a fave) or Starbursts (sometimes helps with the metal taste patients get from chemo). Lemon hard candies are the ones of choice in our chemo clinic to help with the taste and to keep the mouth moist.
|Lemonheads are AWESOME for dry mouth!|
Biotene mouthwash or toothpaste products. Cancer patients have delicate gums and linings of the mouth. Some of them get mouth sores. Most mouthwashes have alcohol in them which is drying to the mouth (what you don't want). Some mouthwashes can sting or hurt the mouth. Biotene is the brand that is most suggested to cancer patients. Most Biotene mouthwashes do not contain alcohol.
Soft and Comfy Chenille Slipper Socks. If patient is in the hospital or they have ceramic tile or hardwood floors at home, make sure you get the kind with the treads on the bottom so they don't slip. Hospitals usually have the terry cloth kind, but chenille is softer.
Something to listen to music on. Music (with headphones so it doesn't disturb other patients) are great to help the cancer patient relax. Some use them when they come in for their weekly chemo. They sit in the chemo chairs and put their music on and it takes them away to someplace better. Inpatient: music can help drown out the sounds of the nurses' station, the beeping of the IV pump. Whether it be CD or iPod Shuffle with their favorite songs loaded on it, it makes a great gift. If in the hospital, be mindful that things get ripped off or lost, so don't bring in the top of the line or most expensive version.
Something to communicate with to the outside world: iPad, Kindle Fire, smart phone...anything that can let them get email, games, something to read. Be mindful that hospitals have firewalls that may keep the patient from using their laptops or iPads, so always check with the patient or nurses' station first to see if the patient can use one. See info above about theft/loss in hospital.
Magazines and a paperback (hardcovers are too bulky and take up too much space if the patient is in the hospital). The daily newspaper. Something to drink. Soft scarves for the head (not usually silk as it tends to slip on a bald head), some type of soft cotton fabric that will absorb perspiration and stay put. A soft hat. A soft throw.
A big thanks to Mill Shires and his beautiful sister for this great idea below!! It's a fleece shawl with pockets. Something brightly colored, soft, warm and easy to pack in a tote bag for the chemo clinic or hospital. It has no sleeves so IV bags and tubing are not an issue. In the $20 range and it looks like it would be easy for talented seamstresses to make!
And the number one gift for cancer patients????? A "voucher" or "coupon" offering your services. No not THOSE services. "This coupon good for one ride to the chemo clinic on the date of your choice". "This coupon good for one grocery shopping trip" (either to drive the patient or to do the shopping yourself if they need it). "This coupon good for one day where I will do all of your laundry, or clean your house, or mow your lawn". The house cleaning is huge. Helps the family too.
If the patient is at home, bring a meal to be frozen with instructions on how to cook it. One patient told me that all of her friends gave the family $500 in gift certificates for take-out from all of the local eating establishments. She had teenaged sons who were picky eaters, so this way the whole family got fed, they got the chance to pick their favorite foods, and it still saved the cancer patient and her family members from having to cook. She never got over how thoughtful her friends were. This was her favorite gift.
Most of all, cancer patients need your love, patience and understanding. So keep it coming!!
Oh yes, and the food. Individually wrapped non perishable treats that can be stored in their bedside table or nightstand. More on food in another post..
Just a few suggestions. Hope this helps!
If you are a cancer survivor, please let me know what YOUR favorite gifts to receive were and I will add them here.