I recently received word from a college friend that she is going through kidney failure and being treated with dialysis. I received this news via actual letter because she had to severely downgrade her phone plan in a wave of cost cutting measures to afford said treatment. The whole situation feels very sad and I wanted to do something nice for her, so I rounded up a group of college friends through Facebook and organized a care package of kidney friendly goodies.
While nothing is this Ible will cure kidney disease/ failure, the items herein support healthy and comfortable living for a person going through it.Above all, a care package is a tangible way to show your love and bring the person some much needed cheering up. I'm putting this information together for anyone else out there who needs care package ideas for a kidney patient. My hope is that it will also inspire you to research and assemble care packages for people in your life suffering other types of illnesses (cancers, diabetes, depression, limited mobility, etc.)
Step 1: Treats
NO!-- Chocolate is a big no-no for kidney patients because of its phosphorous and potassium content. Abnormal or non-functioning kidneys can not filter away the excess, and too much build up of these minerals in your blood can cause adverse affects such as bone loss, nausea, and abnormal calcium deposits in the body.
NO!-- Caramel should also be limited and may be deemed unsafe entirely in some cases.
If you do not know the patient's dietary restrictions, there are still LOTS of fun treat options that are completely kidney safe. Most of these will be fruity flavored treats.
Soft Candies --Gummi bears, gummi worms, gummi fruit snacks, gumdrops, jelly beans, Starbursts, Sour patch kids, Laffy Taffy, and marshmallow snacks like Peeps. These are kidney safe, flavorful, and come in cheerful colors that make them great for a gift.
Hard Candies -- Jolly Ranchers, Sweet Tarts, Skittles, Jawbreakers, and Lemonheads, among others, are all safe. Hard candies are also a good thing because they encourage saliva production and help to reduce the feeling of thirst patients may experience.
You might find yourself thinking, should I really be giving a sick person junk food? If you follow the candy buying guidelines, it can actually be a good thing. Kidney patients sometimes lose a lot of weight. Candy, aside from being easy and pleasant to pack away, helps add to the person's caloric intake in support of energy and maintaining a healthier weight.
All of these examples have been pulled from internet research on the subject. If you're considering a candy not listed here, be sure to review the nutritional information on the packaging. Avoid anything containing high levels of sodium, phosphorus, or potassium, since those are the kidney's enemies right now. When in doubt, do a web search of "Kidney Safe Candy" and stick to the list!
Step 2: Comfort
My research on kidney patients also revealed a need for warmth and comfort. Ever been waiting in the exam room at the doctor's office and freezing your butt off in the sterile, air conditioned room? Patients receiving dialysis will be sitting in hospital rooms like that for hours on end. While one typically keeps their clothes on and doesn't have to go full hospital gown, exposed fingers, hands, and toes are bound to get uncomfortably cold.
Socks, Mittens, or Arm Warmers -- Choose soft, cozy knits that will be pleasant to wear (never something rough and itchy). If you knit or crochet, make something custom in the patient's favorite colors. This gift is practical, but there are plenty of ways to make it fun too.
Blanket -- Again, coziness is key. Consider really appealing textures you'd like to cuddle up to. A determined crafter might knit an afghan, or for a quicker gift try one of those polar fleece blanket kits where you just knot the ends together. Either option will be a welcome way to keep the whole body warm during those long appointments.
Neck Pillows -- a simple neck pillow, like what you'd take with you on a plane, can help make the long hours in the dialysis chair more comfortable. These are also available in a variety of fun colors and different fill types. The cat neck pillow pictured here is a more firm, rice type fill, and also contains dried lavender.
Aromatherapy -- If you have no experience with aromatherapy or essential oils, this one may sound hippy-dippy at first. I may have said the same thing until about 4 yrs ago when my mother became a Clinical Certified Aromatherapist and showed me which natural scents to use for different situations. There's real science behind how these plants work to affect our moods, state of mind, and in turn, our bodies. For example, the reason you see a lot of "calming" or "stress relief" products that are lavender scented is because that is naturally what lavender does best!
*None of the following is a substitute for hospital visits or medicine. Aromatherapy can help alleviate symptoms, but ultimately you need to adhere to your physician's guided care to stay feeling well and prevent symptoms from recurring.
Mom's Top Picks:
Lavender -- Calming in stressful times and can help with relaxing/ promoting sleep.
Ginger -- Just as eating fresh ginger helps soothe an upset stomach, the smell of ginger helps alleviate feelings of nausea. I apply a ginger blend oil right under my nose if I feel sick, or during road trips to help prevent car sickness. Some people find ginger to be strong and somewhat off putting, so I suggest testing it on a wrist to make sure you like it before applying anywhere near the nose.
Lemon Iron Bark -- A bright, lemon scent that can wake you up and promote feeling energized. Great if you need a quick pick-me-up or need to be alert. I use this scent if I have to get up really early for a special event and don't want to be in a fog.
The two simplest means of giving someone an aromatherapy gift are:
Give a small bottle of Essential Oil --Many oils can be applied directly to the skin, on pulse points as you might with perfume. You can also put a few drops onto a cotton ball and tuck it into your undershirt or bra. This is a good option for oils like Lemongrass or peppermint which might produce too much of a sting if applied directly to bare skin. In either case, you will be able to smell the oil and enjoy the benefits.
*When shopping for essential oils, look for glass bottles that are dark amber or blue. Oils sold in clear glass are either not true essential oils, or the vendor doesn't know what he/ she is doing. Dark glass helps an oil keep its aromatic properties over time, whereas oil in clear glass will diminish in strength quickly.
Give a Sachet of Dried Herbs -- Some aromatherapy herbs, such as lavender, can be purchased dried and can be used in sachets. Said sachets can be placed within a room or under a pillow to provide a subtle dose of aroma, or you can sniff them directly for an instant boost. I am a big fan of the latter, and incorporated this idea into my previous Ible on Aromatherapy Plushes. I keep one of these lavender filled stuffed toys on my desk at work to help me de-stress when things get frustrating.
Step 3: Entertainment
Still on the topic of those long hours receiving dialysis, another nice gift is some form of entertainment to use while they're stuck in the chair.
Books, Magazines, and Comics -- Consider the patient's taste. Are they an avid reader who can enjoy a thick novel? Hobby/ How To books might be the right fit for someone who has always wanted to learn a particular craft, but never had the time to really sit down and read about it before. The gift of a magazine subscription provides a much lighter read, but does keep on giving new material over time. A stack of new comics is like a pile of gold for the artist or self-identifying geek friend.
Adult Coloring Books -- Growing in popularity and great for killing time (assuming the dialysis port isn't on the coloring arm). These are great options for creative types and are well liked for their calming/ stress reducing effects.
Music -- Load an iTunes or Play Store gift card so the patient can get some fresh music to listen to. If you know the person pretty well, you could also create a custom upbeat playlist of their favorites to load on to their media device.
Noise canceling headphones are another nice consideration for the music lover. Being able to fully buffer any noise of hospital equipment and general bustle will allow them to more easily relax and enjoy.
Movies --Now that most people have tablets or phones with a giant screen, you could also gift video in the form of a streaming service subscription.
Step 4: Staying in Contact
When the course of treatment is going to be long term, it is important to stay in touch with the patient and offer your love and support for the long haul. It really annoys me when someone makes a big show when news of illness first breaks and then all but vanishes as time goes on. Don't be that person!
Schedule Regular Contact --Whether this is in person, over the phone, or Skyping, make sure you make time to talk to your friend. It is easy to get caught up in daily life and feel like you don't have time, especially if this person doesn't live near you, which is why scheduling these "meetings" can really help. Having it on your calendar means you are booked and nothing else should get in the way.
Frequency -- This is something you and your friend will have to feel out and can always adjust. If you're close, weekly check ins may feel right. If this is a more distant relative, once a month might feel more appropriate. Check in often enough to be abreast of their health ups and downs and to offer an ear, but there's no need to make it awkward by calling every day!
Post Cards -- My friend loves to get and send real mail. She loves cards and stickers. So, while her budget phone plan prevents her from calling me on the phone, I thought she would enjoy fun postcards as a means of keeping in touch with her friends and stickers to decorate them. Tangible communications can be nice because the person can hang favorite cards on the fridge as a happy reminder of your friendship or keep meaningful letters to re-read when they need a boost.
Hand Made Well Wishes -- The group of care package contributors in my case were all artists, so this one was easy. A hand made card or drawing is entirely unique and straight from the heart. Keep it lighthearted!
While e-mail is the modern preferred method of contact, I feel this should be a last resort when communicating with a chronically ill friend. It's just too easy to put off replying until days or weeks later. Also, actually hearing a person's voice (phone) or seeing their face (Skype, in person) is scientifically proven to provide a far greater psychological benefit to someone who may be lonely or depressed.
Step 5: Send!
As with other projects I've done, I found it valuable to set a deadline for the care package. It helped keep my buying on track and also nudged the others participating into action sooner than later.
Mark a date on your calendar. This is the date you will schedule your in person delivery date (if geographically possible) or the date you will put the package in the email.
I encourage you to stick to this date within a day or so. Life may be busy, but try to focus on how happy your gesture will make the recipient and make it happen. Also, in terminal cases a patient's time is limited, and you don't want to be kicking yourself an saying "if only I had just visited/ mailed that package on time!"
* If sending a card or gift by mail, don't be discouraged if you don't receive an immediate response. The ill person may be swamped with doctor visits or sleeping a lot. They might also be feeling unwell and want to wait until they have more energy so that they can express their gratitude the way they really want to. It is also possible that your gesture was so touching that they are a little overwhelmed and want to find the right words to respond. Be patient and understanding. Do this because you want to do it for the other person, not to receive accolades.
It took my friend about 3 weeks to write back to me. I had almost started to question whether it got delivered. She loved the care package and said it made her feel pretty emotional to have had all these old friends collaborate on it. I shared her words with the others and we all felt great for having reached out and made her day.
Step 6: Go Forth and Care
I hope this information has inspired you to do something nice for any ill person in your life, or helped you learn a bit more about kidney disease patients specifically.
If you have more care package ideas or photos that you'd like to share, feel free to contribute in the comments.