As a nurse, I thought I had a better handle than most when it came to being aware of the special needs of people with chronic illnesses. If someone I knew was diabetic was acting oddly I’d quietly ask if they’d checked their sugar lately. When I’d visit my grandparents I’d always sneak a peek at their medication bottles to make sure it looked like they were taking their meds properly. I was always glad to look at lab results or translate doctor-speak for non-medical friends and family. But once I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I had a chronic illness (which took a heck of a long time) I saw things from a different angle. So here’s a short list for those of you what to do or say and what not to do or say when someone you know has a chronic illness.
Look it up so you know the basics. You don’t have to be an expert, but it helps a lot if you know a person with Crohn’s disease always needs to know where the nearest bathroom is, and kids with Autism generally don’t do well in loud, crowded environments.
Keep communication lines open. Don’t be afraid of calling, texting, or emailing at the wrong time or about the wrong topic. Everyone likes to know someone’s thinking about them. A cute picture or a funny story can really brighten someone’s day – it’s never an intrusion. And good, old-fashioned cards are awesome. It’s a happy surprise to get them in the mail, and they can provide happiness for days to come sitting on the mantle or attached to the fridge.
One word about communication, though. It may sound like common sense, but believe me, it happens more than you think. Don’t complain to the amputee how lousy your run was this morning. Don’t complain about your kids to the mom of a severely autistic child. And don’t tell me your back hurts. Just sayin’. Do feel free to share all the wonderful things going on in your life, though. Happy moments grow with the sharing.
Encourage your friend or family member to get out – to go for a walk, to a movie, meet for coffee, whatever. But don’t push. They know what their limits are better than you do. Respect that.
Offer to help with whatever you know is hard for them. Prepare to be turned down, though. Help is hard to accept when someone’s battling for control of their own body. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Keep offering.
Don’t ask, “How are you doing?” unless you really want to know. If you’re just calling to check in and tell a funny joke you heard on the radio on the way to work, say so and save the “How are you” for when you have more time.
Realize that this person’s priorities, abilities, and limitations have changed. Chronic illnesses can change every facet of a person’s life – sometimes they must. A friend who once could just take off and spend the day shopping, going to lunch, getting a pedicure, whatever may now have to take frequent rest breaks, eat at specific times, and take medications on a certain schedule. Or they may just not be able to handle more than an hour or so out at a time. Accept them for who they are now, because you never know when you may be in the same boat.
More suggestions? Please share in the comments section? Big goof-up (I’ve made a lot of those)? I’m linking up today with Angie for List-It Tuesday at Real Life at Home as well as at Crystal & Co‘s Mommy Solutions, so please stop by and check it out!