Saturday, June 11, 2011

[[ WHEN SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS SICK ]]

I know I just did a fashion extravaganza like an editor of some fashion mag(a dream job actually) but I had this urge to share this touchy topic.

When we have friends/relatives/loved ones who are sick, especially when they are REALLY ill, sometimes when we visit them, we find it tricky to compose in our minds what to say. We want to make them feel better, but does what we say make them feel better? From my own experience and other loved ones I know, this is what I found out.

NEVER SAY...

1. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Most patients I know grow to hate this ubiquitous, if heartfelt question because it puts the burden back on them. The patient is never going to tell you. They don't want to feel vulnerable. Instead, just do something for the patient. And the more mundane the better, because those are the tasks that add up. Want to be really helpful? Clean out the fridge, replace the light bulbs, unpot the dead plants, change the oil.

2. MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU. In my experience, some people think about you, which is nice. Others pray for you, which is equally comforting. But the majority of people who say they're sending "thoughts and prayers" are just falling back on a mindless cliché. It's time to retire this hackneyed expression to the final resting place of platitudes, alongside "I'm stepping down to spend more time with my family," or "It's not you, it's me." lol

3. DID YOU TRY THAT MANGO COLONIC I RECOMMENDED?

I am stunned by the number of friends and strangers alike who are full of tips for miracle tonics, Chinese herbs or Swedish visualization exercises. At times, the patient's inbox is like a Grand Ole Opry lineup of 1940s Appalachian black-magic potions. "If you put tumeric under your fingernails, and pepper on your neck, and take a grapefruit shower, you'll feel better. It cured my Uncle."

Even worse, the recommenders follow up! "Why are you not wearing the kabbalah bracelet I gave you, it's from Israel.

4. EVERYTHING WILL BE O.K.

Unsure what to say, many well-wishers fall back on chirpy feel-goodisms. But these banalities are more often designed to allay the fears of the caregiver than those of the patient. As one friend complained: "I got a lot of 'chin ups,' 'you're going to get better.' I kept thinking: You haven't seen the scans. That's not what the doctor is saying." The simple truth is, unless you're a medical professional, resist playing Nostradamus.

5. HOW ARE WE TODAY?

Every adult patient I know complains about being infantilized. When the adult patient has living parents, as I do, many mothers in particular fall back on old patterns, from overstepping their boundaries to making bologna sandwiches when the patient hasn't eaten them since childhood. Just because someone is dealing with a physical illness doesn't diminish their mental capacity.

6. YOU LOOK GREAT.

Nice try, but patients can see right through this chestnut. We know we're gaunt, our hair is falling out in clumps, our colostomy bag needs emptying. The only thing this hollow expression conveys is that you're focusing on how we appear. When people comment on my appearance it reminds me that I don't look good.

Next time you want to compliment a patient's appearance, keep this in mind: Vanity is the only part of the human anatomy that is immune to cancer.

So what do I want to hear if I wear (God forbids) really sick?

1. YOU DON'T HAVE TO TEXT ME OR CALL ME BACK

All patients get overwhelmed with the burden of keeping everyone informed, coddled and feeling appreciated. Social networking, while offering some relief, often increases the expectation of round-the-clock updates.

To get around this problem, the patient may have to appoint a "minister of information," whose job is to disseminate news, deflect queries and generally be polite when the patient don't have the energy or inclination to be. But you can do your part, too: If you do drop off a fruitcake or take the dog for a walk, insist the patient not write you a thank-you note. Chicken soup is not a wedding gift; it shouldn't come with added stress. Come on!

2. I SHOULD BE GOING NOW.

You'll never go wrong by uttering these five words while visiting someone who's sick.Just don't overstay. 20 minutes, even less if the patient is tired or in pain.

3. WOULD YOU LIKE SOME GOSSIP?

One surefire tip: a slight change of topic goes a long way. Patients are often sick of talking about their illness. We have to do that with our doctors nurses. By all means, follow the lead of the individual, but sometimes ignoring the elephant in the room is just the right medicine. Even someone recovering from surgery has an opinion about the starlet's affair, the underdog in the playoffs or the big election around the corner.

4. I LOVE YOU.

When all else fails, simple, direct emotion is the most powerful gift you can give a loved one going through pain. It doesn't need to be ornamented. It just needs to be real. "I'm sorry you have to go through this." "I hate to see you suffer." "You mean a lot to me." The fact that so few of us do this makes it even more meaningful.

2 comments:

Aakriti said...

Hey Ayeesha..nice post...wteva u wrote makes a lot of sense..indeed.and u knw what somewhat simliar to these are the moments when a closed one of a friend has passed away..moments like these place us in awkward situations..where it gets hard to decide what to say or what not to..A frnd of mine says "When u dunno what to say, better just keep quiet"...and hey thnks for following my blog:) Aakriti

ayeesha said...

thank you for the kind words aakriti. most of us just go mute in awkward situations. but we learn, right?