5 Ways to be Sensitive to a Person who’s Ill

This is a portion of an article from More Magazine, April, 2014.

The article is What to Say to a Friend who is Ill (by Donna Jackson Nakazawa).  It is great article!  This is part of the article and future blogs will highlight other portions of it.

5 ways….

1. Pause before you enter his/her room.  On any given day, you don’t know what condition your friend will be in.  NYU’s Irene S. Levine suggests that before you visit, “given yourself transition time to think about what you may encounter and what you might say.”  What has the sick person experienced most recently?  If she’s in the hospital and just had a visit from the doctor, consider asking him about it.  “How did it go when the doctor was here?” If there is silence, pause before leaping in.

2. Touch your friend gently.  Patients often lose their sense of physical connection because they’re rarely touched except during medical procedures.  Levine suggests, “When you first see your friend, you might simply put a hand on her shoulder or hold his hand.”

3. Take the patient’s view of her disease.  “If your friend has metastatic cancer and he knows he doesn’t have a lot of time left and wants to close loose ends, respect where he is rather than trying to pretend the situation is different,” says Julie Klam, author of Friendkeeping.  Or if your friend feels certain she is going to beat her disease and wants you to support that, sign on and join her in that unwavering conviction.  “For some friends, being Sally Sunshine is appropriate; for others, it is not,” says Klam.

4. Connect digitally.  Several former patients said texting allowed them to say yes to offers of help they might otherwise have missed.  “If someone calls, I might not even answer the phone,” says Mary Wooding, whose pulmonary arterial hypertension leaves her with little energy. But if someone texts and says, ‘I am at Redbox staring at this movie you wanted to see,” it’s easy to text back, ‘Yes, thank you.'”  Texts can also be an easy way to convey affection.  “No one gets tired of hearing that they are missed,” says former breast cancer patient Catherine Guthrie.

5. Offer to make open-ended plans.  People with chronic illnesses sometimes feel guilty about canceling dates with friends at the last minute.  Chronic-illness coach Rosalind Joffe suggests offering them an out.  You could say, for instance, “We really would love it if you could be at our party, but we know you can’t predict how you’ll feel that day.  So here is the invite; come if you can.  If you can’t, we’ll understand.”


More later.