Now, what TO SAY to a sick person:
So what do patients like to hear? Here are four suggestions.
1. DON’T WRITE 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, I appointed a “minister of information,” whose job it was to disseminate news, deflect queries and generally be polite when I didn’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.
2. I SHOULD BE GOING NOW. You’ll never go wrong by uttering these five words while visiting someone who’s sick. As Ms. Pogrebin observes of such visits, don’t overstay your welcome. She recommends 20 minutes, even less if the patient is tired or in pain. And while you’re there, wash a few dishes or tidy up the room. And take out the trash when you leave.
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 and insurance henchmen. 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.
Next time you find yourself in this awkward yet solemn situation, you have a better idea of what to say that is consoling to your sick friend or loved one,
you know certain things that will make him or her feel worst. Now you can be prepared to only convey the messages that will be consoling.
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