Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Show You Care During Difficult Times

(MS) - A serious or life-changing health care issue will touch everyone's life eventually. A sibling is diagnosed with cancer. A colleague's baby is born too soon. A neighbor suffers a heart attack. An accident severely injures a niece. Family, friends and neighbors want to help, but even the best of intentions can be waylaid when you don't know what to do or fear being too intrusive.

"In the midst of a health care crisis, people live in a slow-motion world filled with fear, uncertainty and critical health care decisions. They simply can't focus on - or may even forget about - day-to-day activities," said Dr. Jesse Gruman, president of the Center for the Advancement of Health. "The burdens they're facing cause action paralysis. Friends and family can best help by just doing whatever they see that needs doing. That will dramatically reduce stress for a hurting family."

Many normal daily activities get set aside during days and weeks consumed with medical tests, doctor visits, surgeries, physical therapy or chemotherapy. Here are five specific ways to help until life resumes some sense of normalcy.

1. Pick Something Specific - Starting at Home

Try not to ask the general question, "How can I help?" Instead, take responsibility for a specific task and tell the family when it will be completed. Even asking, "Could I mow your lawn?" may result in a gentle brush-off for fear of imposition. Telling the person, "I'm going to mow your lawn every Thursday" breaks down reservations.

If your neighbor is away at the hospital day and night, get their newspapers, mail or deliveries. Water their flowers and plants.Turn the lights on and off to provide added security.

The mail, laundry and dust are bound to pile up when there's limited time at home. Offer to clean the house, fold laundry or hire a cleaning person for the tasks.

2. Simplify Communication

Keeping people informed of an individual's medical condition and progress also can be a major, and often hidden, stressor.

"It is emotionally draining and physically exhausting for family members of a patient to repeat details of the treatment progress or latest test results with 10 people every day," said Sona Mehring of CaringBridge. "It can be overwhelming and takes time away from their loved one - the person who really needs their attention." CaringBridge is a nonprofit service providing free, private and personalized Web sites that serve as communication and support hubs during health care crises.

If you're close to the affected family or person, offer to create a CaringBridge Web site for them ( It takes two minutes and is easily updated, keeping all those concerned - regardless of their location - apprised of any developments. The site allows an author to post background on the individual's condition and diagnosis, provide updates with regular journal entries, post photos, and link to other sites for medical information. Sites also provide a guestbook for visitors to post personal notes, prayers and poems. And whenever a journal update is made to the individual's site, registered visitors receive an e-mail alert.

3. Help With Meals

Provide ready-to-cook meals, frozen and portioned according to the family's size. And be creative - families are too often overwhelmed with large pasta dishes. Make-and-bake meal preparation stores are extremely convenient if you don't want to cook.

Gift cards to fast-food or casual dining restaurants always come in handy. For family members who remain at home, go grocery shopping. Put the groceries away, and leave a note with meal suggestions for the week.

4. Take Care Of The Rest Of The Family

Maintaining a typical daily routine is unrealistic in the midst of a health care crisis. Kids, however, still need to go to school or get to after-school activities. Offer to provide rides for the kids or dinner for them before their evening activities.

Giving kids an outlet for fun can help relieve stress and worry. Invite them to a sporting event, the zoo or a movie with your children. Again, specifically say, "We're picking up Brian at 6:45 for the football game, and we'll be home at 10." This gives parents kid-free time to decompress, run errands or catch up on much-needed sleep.

And don't forget about the four-legged family members. Offer to walk or feed the dog at a specific time each day - and follow through.

5. Don't Do It Alone

When a crisis strikes, many people truly want to help. Groups can pool their energy and resources to help spread the responsibilities among many people to provide help for an extended period of time.

Supporting family, friends and neighbors through a time of medical crisis, uncertainty or prolonged illness can be incredibly fulfilling, and your efforts will be a welcome relief during long days.

CAPTION: For those who are touched with a health care crisis, you can take many steps to help through this difficult time, such as cooking or cleaning

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