This post is a compilation of ideas, input and opinions from several of my friends who have been injured in roller derby, bike and auto accidents, and also people who have had surgery, either elective or required (such as for cancer treatment.) Not all of these responses apply to all situations, and not everyone reacts in the same way, so consider this a view into the perspective of the injured/ill person, and start from there when offering help.
First, depending on the injury or illness, your friend will need help. If they have a spouse or partner who is wiling to help out and care for them, that’s a huge help, but also, that person will need some love too. So consider them as well, which I’ll touch on in a bit. First though:
Your friend needs to eat. If legs are injured, it’s hard to maneuver around the kitchen to cook, and if arms are injured, it’s hard to actually do any cooking, and possibly even eating. Offer to come over, make up some food that can be easily microwaved to warm it up, plate it up so that it’s ready to go, and then clean up after cooking. In the first two weeks of my injury, boyfriend and I ate a LOT of takeout. Then a friend took me to Whole Foods where I could just select pre-made salads, meats, and sides, and they were packaged up, and ready to go for easy to eat healthy meals.
Food that is healthy and easy to eat is additionally helpful because many pain medications have the side effect of reducing appetite. They work by suppressing pain sensors, so that the severe pain in the injury gets reduced to a minor discomfort, while all minor pains (bruises, hunger pains, headaches) are pretty much non-existent. Without the “pain” of hunger, the patient won’t feel the need to eat. This is not good, because the body actually needs *more* calories when healing than normal, due to the trauma of the injury and all the processes that go into place fixing all the broken parts.
Additionally, if your broken friend is broken because of cancer – there are certain foods they won’t be able to eat. Take them things like peppermints and ginger, simple soups, and maybe even some protein enriched drinks. In the first week after my injury, because my lip was damaged, I couldn’t really chow down on a burger, so things like the Mango Protein Plus smoothie from Bolthouse or various Jamba Juice smoothies were pretty much all I could handle. We also tried some Ensure drinks, which I didn’t love, and the Naked brand smoothies with protein, which also were a little powdery/chemical tasting to me. The best thing that a friend brought over was a pack of chocolate pudding. That was awesome. It was seriously so delicious to me at that moment, just a few days after the accident.
Take a moment to think about how you get dressed in the morning. Now think about how hard that would be if you couldn’t move your arm, or if your leg was encased in a boot or cast, or if you had to have access to a medical device, or if anything at all touching your injury (even just the barest wisp of fabric) caused you excruciating pain. That’s getting dressed with an injury. Because I had already been through the shoulder injury thing once with another friend, she had a couple shirts that she brought me the first night she came to visit after I was released. My injury is such that, with help, I could put on underwear, pants, socks, etc. Shirts, however, were difficult. I could not lift my left arm more than a few centimeters without pain, which means no reaching up into sleeves or arm-holes to pull anything over my head. I also couldn’t wear anything that was binding across my back for the first few weeks (no bra!) So, shirts that I could step into, pull up, and then tie either behind my neck like a halter, or over each shoulder (spaghetti strap style) were a god send. I’m now at the point where I can start to put these things on myself, but the first week, it wasn’t happening. And because of the no bra issue, scarves were a must for modesty.
For leg/feet injuries, it becomes even more complicated. Some people can pull up a pair of boxer shorts, others can’t balance without crutches or assistance, so forget lifting one leg, then the other. For those situations, wrap skirts are excellent, as are dresses that pull over the head and flow loosely to the knee. The current trend for maxi-dresses can be a helpful one for going out when you don’t want to display your scars, but not necessarily a helpful trend when you are trying to walk with hardware or wheel around in a chair.
This one gets a bit more personal. If you are a friend who has the ability to stomach health care issues, offer those skills up. Your friend might be able to do the actual bathroom stuff alone, but have trouble getting up off the toilet, or cleaning afterward. For women, it is likely that your monthly cycle might appear at the least convenient time. Due to medications, trauma on the body, or other factors, it might behave erratically and come at the wrong time, even. Medications can also make someone, uh…”irregular” in another sense. Yes, Miralax in powder form is excellent relief. One packet added to a bike bottle of water has no taste, no texture, and helps get things moving. Your friend may also need help showering. In my case, I can’t lift my left arm, and turning and reaching are limited, so showering is difficult without assistance.
Other care products that are useful include:
- Mederma – for reducing the appearance of scars
- Brave Soldier Antiseptic Healing Ointment – formulated specifically for road rash
- Action Wipes
- Dry shampoo
- Lotion/Moisturizer (unscented is best for chemo patients)
- Exfoliating face wipes
You know what? It sucks being injured. You can’t do anything, you’re in a fog due to pain and the meds, you have all these medical appointments to get to, and you feel like crap. Here is the part where I’ll let a few friends anonymously offer their opinions about what helped them:
- “My colleague is a breast cancer survivor so she totally got it right away. She and her partner made a bunch a food that would be easy to freeze and reheat. Then they cleaned my kitchen and then- this is the best part- they left. I was so tired of talking to people. Once I got out of the hospital I just wanted to be alone. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the company, but it got to be exhausting. She would text me once a day to see if I needed anything, but we never had much of a conversation until about two weeks after the surgery.”
- “Comfy socks, movies, and audio books – things to keep my mind off of what I wasn’t doing because I was hurt, and couldn’t do things.”
- “Don’t bring things just because you feel the need to not appear empty handed. Trashy mags, books, these are good. I’m in the hospital, and too many things mean I just have more luggage to take home.”
- “Real food. Crappy snacks. COFFEE. A decent mocha or latte will go a LONG WAY.”
- “A cleaning service. And keeping my mother away. My husband had that duty.”
Things that I also appreciated: one friend came over, and immediately walked into the kitchen and started doing dishes. I already have a cleaning lady, and she made herself available on a shorter notice for us, and expanded her typical work to include laundry and dishes as well. Another friend jumped in with rides to appointments. In the first days, as I was getting used to the new limits on my body, having a friend over to just be here if I needed her was great – she saw it as a mini-vacation from her kids, and I got the comfort of having someone around in case I needed something.
If your broken friend has a partner, check in with them as well. Have they eaten? Do they need someone to take over for a few hours so they can nap, go to work, get groceries, or just go out and do something that is fun and restorative? Boyfriend was incredibly stressed by the load of effort involved in taking care of me, fielding calls from people, and trying to do the things around the house that I normally do, as well as his job and schoolwork. One friend came over and took him for a few bike rides to get him out of the house, including a ride by the spot where I got hurt, so he wouldn’t have to ride through there alone for the first time. Another friend came over and provided ‘babysitting’ duties so he could nap and do homework, and at one point, just allowed him to play Diablo with his friends online
These are all suggestions, not hard and fast rules. Some of them depend on how well you know your friend. Some friends are a little too proud or shy to ask for help, so when you come to them, offer up things you can do. Sometimes it might just be listening to them, or it could be sending emails for them. There are numerous ways to help, and it will be different for each person. But definitely, offer help. If you have an area of specialty, offer that up. If you have time, offer that up. Give your friend something to look forward to, if that’s an option – in my case, a friend bought me a new bike jersey to replace the one that was cut off in the hospital. Another friend got us a discount on replacing the boyfriend’s helmet that was stolen at the crash scene. That same friend came over and cleaned my cat’s litterbox a few times. Seriously, there are so many little things that just take so much effort when you are injured. Even if you don’t think you can help, you can. Just ask.