3 Reasons I Haven't Been Able to Answer 'What Can I Do For You' During My Child's Illness


One question I’m never good at answering is “What can I do for you?” during one of my daughter’s surgeries. I am touched and impressed each time a friend, co-worker, or family member asks me, but finding a good way to answer remains a feat I haven’t yet accomplished. Most of the parents I know echo this issue, and while we typically say there’s nothing we need, sometimes it’s just because we don’t know how to ask.

The reasons behind this are different for each person, but I’ve realized, for me, in the past few years, there are three main reasons:

1. I take pride in the fact that I’m able to handle everything that comes with having a
medically complicated child, a job, a home, pets and my other children. So in my mind admitting I need help means I’m not juggling it all successfully. I joke that I “wear a cape like Superman” or some “groovy red boots like Wonder Woman,” and perhaps I’m afraid of taking them off. Pride goeth before a fall, right?

2. I don’t know what level of help you mean to offer. If you really just wanted to
bring me an unsweetened tea and a dark chocolate bar, but I ask for some pizza
to be delivered to my house, or for you to cut my grass, I’m afraid of misreading you and making you uncomfortable.

3. I know while this may be my family’s challenge, everybody else has their own challenges, so I feel selfish asking for you to bring me lunch when you’ve got a hundred errands to run for your own family. I also don’t want to use up all of my “get out of jail free” cards now, in case the next surgery is worse and I need help more.

Since this surgery has afforded us an unusual preparation time, I’m going to try my best to come up with the answers. These might not be the answers for everyone, but they may give those of you who have truly wanted to help a friend but got the answer, “Nothing.  I’m fine, thanks,” an idea moving forward.

So here’s what would be helpful while my daughter and I are in the hospital.

1. Snacks and food that don’t have to be refrigerated, are in portion sizes and healthier than a candy bar. Unsweetened iced tea, one of those fancy Starbucks strawberry drinks or a chocolate pastry from Panera are some of my favorites.

2. Very light reading material. I’m typically a book snob, so while romances won’t do anything for me, but magazines and crossword puzzles are easy to read and can be put down often. You can even bring me magazines you have around the house – think of it as recycling.

3. Scented or specialty lotion, body wash, etc. They make us feel human again.

4. Gift cards for restaurants. We can either send these home to be used by the family at home, or save them to celebrate when we are home as well.

5. Pizza delivered to my home. The siblings are the real heroes when Amelia
is sick
. They miss school functions, don’t get help with their homework and often have to take care of the dogs, the yard and their laundry without our help. An easy meal for them would be great.

6. Coffee. I won’t sleep much, and will need to be coherent anyway, so coffee is great. The caveat to this is that the longer she’s in the hospital, the more I stress, and coffee + stress = issues, so buyer beware.

7. A new towel and washcloth or blanket. Hospital linens stink. They’re like washing
with and sleeping under sandpaper.

8. A few hours when you can sit with my daughter, so I can remember what it’s like outside the walls of the hospital.

9. Texts and messages that don’t need a response. I’m often overwhelmed by filling everyone in, but I still like to know you’re thinking of us.

So regardless of if you’re wondering how to help me, my family or your own friends and family, remember “No thanks, I’m good” often means, “Yes, I’d love some help, but don’t know how to ask.”

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