I probably could count the hours that I have been here (not this ICU but in an ICU waiting room) but that seems like a bad use of math. Thankfully never as a patient, but in various caregiving roles. The first time I was just so far out of my element, I didn’t know what to ask or who to ask. I didn’t even have a charging cable or extra battery. I didn’t have medicine listings that the hospital needed. I didn’t have quarters for the coffee machine or clean underwear. It was a very fast and very hard learning experience.

Few things about ICU 1) just because someone is in ICU does not mean they will die there; yes it is serious, yes they need more skilled care than in the regular rooms, but people leave ICU and go on for years and years. It is easy to think the worse when you are surrounded by monitors and screens and bells and alarms and you get trapped in your own head with your thoughts. 2) It is normally staffed with a nursing staff that has been doing what they do for a long time, be nice to them, be thankful and appreciative and know that they can explain things or help you remember what the doctor said after the 5 minute spout of information. I have always made it a point of when I was finally out of the ICU care pattern to drop off something at the nurses’ station. 3) Nurses are not there as your valet. I knew someone once who kept asking them for a soda or some ice or… and for themselves not the patient… don’t do that.

If you are a patient in ICU, just focus on getting better. Period that is your job.

If you are the primary caregiver or health care representative for the patient… my instant fly out the door go to is: phone, charger, headphones, tablet and or paper notebook and pen, all the cash and coin I can quickly scrounge and a water bottle. Hopefully you have the medication list somewhere (I had it in a google doc) ahead of time. Makes life easier. And a copy of the paperwork allowing you to assist the patient. That is my immediate go to list. If I get to come home for a break, I add hand lotion, lip balm, power bars (with protein), a change of clothes for the car, toothpaste/brush, hairbrush and deodorant, books to read (if they aren’t on my tablet).

If you are the support staff to the primary caregiver, use the above list and bring the things they forgot. Offer to bring a meal (and by that I mean pick up a non-fast food meal, a good meal like Bob Evans (meat, starch, veggie) or a nice salad because they will be living on vending machine and soda/coffee. Bring bottled water.

And finally if you are the friend of a primary caregiver and you want to help but say how can I help and they say, “oh I am fine I don’t need anything”. Make up a little Ziplock and drop it off.  Just sandwich bag sized with travel Kleenex, hand sanitizer, hand lotion and lip balm (hospitals are so very dry!) throw in a few pieces of hard candy and maybe some chocolate (you know your friend better than I do).  Maybe an ink pen (mine kept getting lost) and small note pad. Depending on hair length, a hair tie or two might be nice (again, mine kept disappearing) and maybe some gum. And just a note, something about thinking about them, there for them something so they know they are not alone and drop it off with a hug. It doesn’t have to be elaborate and shouldn’t be too big, quart size bag at most… it is knowing someone thought to do that … that is what matters during that time.

Which brings me to my last point:

It is not the giant elaborate gestures that you remember; it is the small ones, the person who quietly steadies you with a text, just saying thinking about you. The Little Things. When my mother was in hospice, towards the end and I was so tired and so emotionally exhausted, my friend said I am bringing you coffee tonight, what time? First off, very little decision making on my part because she told me she was doing it and all I needed to give was time. The person you are trying to help has no brain power to make decision; they have no idea what they need, so make it easy. 7pm, I said. She showed up with coffee for both of us and we sat in this little nook off the wing for family and took out a glittery flask I had gotten her years ago for Christmas and put a tad of Baileys in my coffee and we laughed like high school kids afraid of their parents catching them. To this day it makes me smile, the kindness and the silly when I needed it.

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