10 caregiving tips for how to prepare for the first visit to the hospital

There’s always that first moment when you’re called on to support your family member or friend going through chemo and you really don’t know what to expect. You may have watched one or a dozen “cancer” movies. You may be ready for a room full of balding heads in reclining chairs – or you’re preparing yourself to be strong in the face of something ranging from uncomfortable to nauseating, if you’re the squeamish type.

But, the honest truth is that you just don’t know. And neither did I.

It is both an honor and a privilege to be that friend, that family member, who is entrusted to sit or stand by their loved one as life-saving drugs drip slowly and deliberately into their fighting body. And yet, it can often be frightening not knowing what to expect.

The first time your loved one goes to chemo – they don’t know what to expect either. The second, third, fifth or tenth time, their routine begins to become familiar. The body responds in ways that, while not familiar, might be anticipated.

But as a caregiver – my first time as the “friend sitting by” was anything but expected. It seems silly to say this, but I simply expected more. More of what, I can’t say.

My friend’s reality was simply watching her sleep. I had taken the second shift – from 1-7pm – and as I drove to the hospital following a last-minute meeting at the office, I realized I hadn’t thought to bring lunch. So, on the way, I hopped out of my car at a soup place and grabbed a to-go bag. Unfortunately, the moment I opened the soup the smell that emanated from the bowl was so strong I promptly closed the lid and tossed it in the trash. Valuable lesson #1 – avoid bringing anything with a strong odor into a chemo unit.

Ultimately, over the 5-6 hours of my shift, I learned a number of valuable lessons – and have accumulated enough others to form a checklist for the caregiver supporting a loved one during chemo.

Here are 10 caregiving tips for the caregiver bringing their friend to chemo:

1. The patient should be kept comfortable – and so should you

Be prepared to wait, and then wait some more. In many cases, your loved one will be in a sleep-like state, and you will be standing by. Make sure you coming wearing clothing you will be comfortable sitting in for long periods of time.

2. Bring an extra sweater or sweatshirt

Bring an extra sweater or sweatshirt. While you would expect the patient to get cold during treatment, hospital/clinic environments are notoriously cold for patients and guests alike. And while asking for an extra blanket might be an option, its just nicer to be prepared.

Caregiving Tips: Bring snacks that are easy, quiet and NOT smelly 3. Bring snacks that are easy, quiet and NOT smelly

The long hours can be tiring, and surprisingly hunger-inducing despite the fact that you’re not doing much. You might be surprised to find yourself hyper-aware of the sounds or smells you are making that might disturb the person in treatment – like the crackling of potato chips or the odor coming off of your tuna sandwich.

Think of bringing chopped veggies in Ziploc bags, granola bars or packaged trail mix. A small sugar pick-me-up can add some sweetness to the day.

Download these tips as an easy-to-print PDF and save it as a reminder.

4. Have a reusable water bottle handy

Make sure you are drinking regularly. A reusable water bottle is the easiest way to make sure you’re not taking too many trips to the water fountain – wherever it is.

5. Hand cream – bring it!

Every time you go to the bathroom or handle anything related to your loved one in treatment, you will wash or disinfect your hands afterwards. Once you’ve done this 5-6 times your hands will shift through different stages of dryness, from comfortable to brittle. Having a non-smelly hand cream available will bring them relief and keep you comfortable.

Caregiving Tips: A tablet or laptop stocked with movies or tv series6. A tablet or laptop stocked with movies or tv series

It’s a great time to catch up on all of your favorites.

7. Don’t depend on the hospital’s wifi

It can have a tendency to either not exist or be slow when you’re trying to stream.

8. Dull paperwork

It seems counter-intuitive, but the long stretches of time while your friend is semi-sleeping can be a great time to catch up on the work you’ve been meaning to around to.

Download these tips as an easy-to-print PDF and save it as a reminder.

9. Coloring books & pencils

With all of the craze around adult coloring books, now is your chance to try out Caregiving Tips: 9. Coloring books & pencilsthe stress-reducing hobby of the masses.

10. Chargers and multiple plug extenders

You never know where you will be sitting – and how far away or how many outlets will be available. You could be the hero by bringing in the extension cord that allows you to extend the one outlet in the room to more caregivers. You never know what kinds of new friends you will make.

Marni Mandell is the CEO and Co-Founder of CareHood. The idea for CareHood was developed out of the challenges she encountered offering care and support for friends who were too far away for her to help when they were in treatment with serious illnesses and other physical challenges.


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