What to Do When a Friend is Ill

What to Do When a Friend is Ill

Obviously, as a nurse you know how to be there for your patients, but maybe you’re in uncharted waters when it comes to friends who are sick with a serious or chronic condition. Especially as we and our friends age past 50, our odds of stepping in to help in a caregiving role rise significantly.  

Here are three ways to help, not harm, in a role with no clear cut job description:

Ask your friend what you can do to help.

Don’t assume that you know what a friend will find helpful during an illness, even though you are a healthcare professional. Your friend may prefer to relate to you strictly as a friend, and not discuss the specifics of her condition or medical care. She may choose to express her pain to you with raw honesty, instead. Those are feelings that she might feel comfortable displaying to a doctor or close family member. What you want to do is slow down, listen carefully, and then respond with empathy.

Or, your friend may want help with the daily activities of life – dog walking, meal preparation, or a ride to medical appointments. Perhaps she wants assistance for people who depend on her, such as children, fragile parents, or pets. Or she may want the companionship of a regular visitor to chat with about the events of the day. Decide what kind of tasks make sense for you to take on considering your own schedule and energy level, or you’re liable to overpromise and underdeliver. Good intentions but poor follow through wouldn’t do your friend any good at all.

Be proactive and offer the specific assistance you want to.

Be clear and honest with your friend about what you’re able to do. Offer up something concrete, rather than a general “if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.” If you can double up your own errands so that you’re taking her children to school while dropping off your own, suggest you schedule that in. Or perhaps if you enjoy cooking, propose that you bring a pan of lasagna on Sunday night when you make it for your own family.

But as a nurse, one of the most valuable things you can do is to go with your friend to the doctor. That way you can provide emotional support if there’s bad news, in addition to helping to translate confusing medical terms and treatment options.

Get other friends involved in providing care.

In addition to what you can do, help other people come to the aid of your friend through websites that help lighten the load for all involved. Check out mealtrain.com for shared calendars that help organize meals; lotshelpinghands.com for coordinating daily activities such as errands; and caringbridge.org, a social networking site, for keeping everyone in the loop.

Jebra Turner is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her online at www.jebra.com.