If you have a friend or a loved one in the hospital and would like to take them a gift, but aren't quite sure what they might like, then take a few minutes to think about what you yourself would like to have if you were in the same situation. Also, consider what types of things might make your friend more comfortable or what might make them smile.
First of all, the best gift you can give them is to be there with them. Being sick is never fun, but having to stay in a hospital away from the comforts of your own home can make things more difficult. It can be very comforting to someone who is ill just to have another person in the room to not only keep them company, but to also provide assistance in little ways. A hospital can be a frightening place for some and just knowing that a familiar face is there to watch over them can be the very thing they need to relax, get some rest, and begin to recover.
If the patient enjoys music, then pick up an inexpensive MP3 player and download some of their favorite music. You might also include music that is soft and soothing even if it isn't somthing that they would listen to regularly at home. If the patient isn't familiar with modern electronics and you don't think they would use an MP3 player, then you might consider an inexpensive portable CD player that is easy to use. Often, elderly patients enjoy classical or gospel music, especially when they aren't feeling well.
Often, people in the hospital have difficulty staying warm, even if the room is not cold. This is sometimes due to poor circulation and the fact that while confined to a hospital they are not getting up and moving around very much. A very nice gift that can be enjoyed even after they are well is a soft, plush bathrobe. Hospital gowns are not very thick and most people don't feel comfortable having guests while they are wearing just a gown, so a bathrobe can also help them maintain a little dignity.
Fresh flower arrangements are always bright and cheerful. Live plants are nice too, but always take into consideration that while people are ill they don't always feel up to taking care of a plant. It can also be very messy transporting a live plant home after a hospital stay as well.
A fresh fruit basket can serve two purposes. One, the bright colors of fruit are cheerful and decorative, but the fruit can also be eaten by the patient and the family members helping to care for them. Just be sure to only use fruits such as apples, oranges, and bananas that don't require refrigeration and will stay fresh for several days if you are creating the fruit basket yourself. You can also purchase fruit baskets that are pre-assembled in most grocery stores and floral shops.
The only time that it is not a good idea for the patient to have fresh fruit and flowers in their room is when they are suffering from respiratory problems or after a major surgery, such as an organ transplant or open heart surgery. The traces of pollen and pesticides found in some fruits and flowers can create problems in such cases.
If your loved one has a special interest such as sports, coins, crafts, cars, or any other hobby then pick up a couple of magazines or small, light-weight books about their hobby of choice. It can help pass the time. If they aren't able to hold the book or see the pages, then try reading them a few pages or a couple of articles. If they happen to fall asleep while you are reading to them, then consider it a blessing. People who are seriously ill need all the sleep they can get so their bodies can heal and getting sleep in a hospital with all the noise from the hallway, beeping monitors, and visits from medical staff sometimes make it nearly impossible.
If they enjoy crossword puzzles, sudoku, word search puzzles, or even connect the dots pictures then grab a couple of the puzzle magazines from your local grocery store or the hospital gift shop. You would be amazed at how relaxing these things can be for someone who is cooped up in a bed all the time. These puzzle books are also great for the people sitting with the patient to help pass the time.
If you can spare two or three hours and have a laptop that will play DVD's, then grab a few movies that you think they might enjoy and take your laptop (or portable DVD player, like the ones kids watch in cars) and let the patient pick out a movie for you to watch with them. Just sit the laptop on the food tray that slides over the bed and adjust the screen so they can see it comfortably while lying in bed.
If your loved one or friend is religious, then bring them their Bible from home. People who are ill find comfort in the scriptures. It can sometimes make them feel better just having their Bible beside them, even if they don't feel up to reading. You might also offer to contact their pastor or minister and request they pay the patient a visit.
It is important to check with the nurse or caregiver before bringing food of any kind. Many people who are ill are on special or restricted diets. This is for their own good. If they aren't supposed to have pizza and burgers then don't bring it to them even if they ask for it. This isn't to be unkind. It is for their own good. Talk to their caregiver and get ideas of what foods they like that you can bring to them instead.
Also, consider the people who are caring for the patient. If someone is driving to and from the hospital every day to care for someone, then they are likely missing work, paying expensive parking fees, and having to eat in the expensive hospital cafeteria on top of all that. If you have a little extra money on hand, then put it in a card as a gift. If the patient is going to be hospitalized for weeks or months, then an envelope with one dollar bills can be most helpful. Simply write "Vending Machine Money" on the outside of the envelope and put it inside a gift card.
You also might call ahead if you are planning a visit to your friend or loved one in the hospital and ask if they need something from home that you can get for them. Familiar things bring comfort such as a favorite pair of slippers, electric razor, or even their favorite lotion or aftershave. You might also simply offer to stop by and check on their home and collect their mail for them if their house is unattended while they are in the hospital.
Warm, soft socks or slipper socks are always welcomed by people who are ill. For those who lie in bed for hour after hour, their circulation to the feet is sometimes reduced which results in cold feet. If you want to go a step beyond, then stop and pick up some Bert's Bees or other hypoallergenic lotion. Get a couple of wash cloths from the nurse's station and wet them in warm water and wring out any excess water. Put one on each of the patient's feet and let it sit until it begins to get cool. Repeat this process a few times. Next, put on some rubber gloves if you don't want your hands to get messy and apply the lotion to the patient's feet. Gently rub in circular motion for several minutes. This will not only help to restore circulation to their feet, but it also feels wonderful and is very relaxing. Once you have thoroughly massaged the lotion into their feet, take off the gloves and put a clean pair of socks on them. Also, ask if they would like lotion for their hands as well.
For patients who are in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, you might call the nurse's station and ask if you can bring your pet (or the patient's own pet from home) to visit the patient. Animals can bring smiles even to the most critically ill. Just make sure to get permission first and make sure the patient isn't allergic. Even some hospitals will allow visits from pets as long as the pets are well-mannered.
Most hand soaps in hospitals can dry out people's skin because of the harsh anti-bacterial chemicals they contain. They also leave a peculiar smell on the skin. For family members that will be staying overnight, or spending many nights at the hospital to help care for their loved one, they might really appreciate a care basket that has a shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, disposable razor, shaving cream, lotion, deodorant and any other little luxuries that might be useful. Just be careful to not give any items that have a heavy perfume scent in case it might bother the patient.
There are any number of little gifts that you can take to the sick and hospitalized, but the best gift of all is your time. Spending time with them is more valuable than anything sold in stores. The patient will also remember for years to come that you cared enough to be there for them during their hour of need.