How to help a family when their child is in Hospital

I find it hard to ask for help; I prefer to crack on by myself and wait for someone to notice me or realise I'm struggling and offer to help me.

The logistics that come with a child that needs surgery go far beyond just taking them to the hospital, there are so many things to factor in it's such an overwhelming experience. You have no idea how long you'll be away from home for, no idea how long you'll be separated from your other children. To top it all off, you're trying to keep going and push out the "I just hope my baby survives this surgery!"

We've been lucky that the past three times that Martha has been admitted for surgery, she's been home within a week. But in 2013 we had two separate admissions; once for three weeks and the other for 10 weeks. Mark spent seven on those week's solo parenting, working 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, making the return journey to London with two kids on his own on Saturday and catching up with the food shop and laundry on Sunday - ready to start the week cycle again on Monday.

People have always been amazing and there have always been the kind offers of "Let me know if you need anything" but we've never wanted to put upon anyone. I think we've always taken the attitude of "this is our thing, we must do it on our own" and have only ever felt comfortable asking our immediate family for help.

If you know of anyone who's taking their child (or anyone in their family for surgery) here are the things that I think might be helpful.

The mainly the menial tasks. If you're out doing a food shop - please think of us. Just the basics, the milk, bread, butter, cereals, chicken, mince, pasta, potatoes, cooking sauces, a few sweet treats, tea bags/ coffee, toilet roll, toothpaste shampoo, shower gels etc. The things that are used practically daily that we are definitely likely to run out of. We'll pay you back, it's not that we want you to pay for them because we can't afford to buy them ourselves. It's about the time we'd be saving by not having to take the two other kids out shopping with us when we could be at home focusing on them. We could be at home resting ready to face whatever curve ball our sick child wants to throw at us, bracing ourselves for the nightly hospital update and having to repeat the whole conversation twice or three times in the same night.

It would also save us from having to decide what to make for dinner each night.

If you're cooking for your family and your portion control is quite poor, please send any leftovers our way. If it's a sausage casserole that we can just warm up in the oven or a shepherds pie that can the defrosted during the day ready to be bunged in the oven for half an hour after getting home from work - it really helps.

Come keep us company. Just for half an hour (any more than that and you're eating into our downtime) for a panad and a chat. I know you probably haven't had a text from us for a while asking how you and your family are, it's only because we have so much going on. But if you came over for a chat, we could ask you face to face and you'd realise that we aren't trying to be a crappy friend - we just don't have much brain capacity to think to text you. If you can manage a visit to the parent in hospital that would be great too. This parent (especially if they are at the Hospital on their own) will spend their days only speaking to the Nurses and Doctors, maybe the other parents at the Hospital and over the phone to their spouse, but their conversations will 95% be about their child's medical condition. Let them live vicariously through you, distract them for a few moments thinking about the world outside the hospital.

Oh, and if you do call over to our home, would you please mind putting a load of washing in the machine while you're there - or stick a load in the tumble dryer. Even run a quick hoover around a couple of the rooms while the panad is being made.

If you notice that the at home parent seem's to be struggling, and think they might need a break - please help them out by having the kids even if it's just for a couple of hours so they can catch their breath and just be on their own with their thoughts. Maybe even have a little cry on their own. 

Maybe you're a fellow Heart Parent who's read this and thought that everything I've mentioned here is the worst thing in the world that someone could do for you. But it was things like friends sending me photo's of Osh and Isabella smiling and happy at their house, meeting up with an old school friend who lived a train ride away from the hospital and coming home to find a sausage casserole in the freezer ready for me to reheat were some of the best examples of kindness that I experienced during our long admission.

If you have a friend or relative who's going through something like this, the best way to think is "What would I want someone to do for me?"


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