When we were younger, our parents were the ones making hospital visits and errand runs for sick relatives and friends.

Now we're grown and it's our turn.  So in case you're wondering what you can do for someone close to you who is seriously ill or injured, some suggestions:

If they're in the hospital, call first and see if they're up to a visit.  When you get there, stay for 10-15 minutes, visit to the extent that they're able (maybe pain medication makes her nod off—then just sit quietly and leave a note at her bedside: "came by for a couple of minutes; will check in on you in a couple of days…big hugs xoxo").  

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If the patient is awake, come with cheerful news ("weather's getting better..when you're discharged, it should be 70 and sunny" or "Marta told us they're having a second baby, due in December." or "that new place you wanted to try has finally opened, so when you feel like it after you get out, lunch is on me!")

Small goodies are always appreciated—magazines, a paperback book, hand lotion that doesn't smell like the stuff the hospital gives out.

If the doctor says food is OK, ask if there's anything special he wants—a bowl of gelato, one of Grammie's honey biscuits, a favorite juice.  Whatever his diet will allow.

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Sometimes a patient doesn't want anything in particular, but would love to have some help for his/her family.

Offer to take the children for a few hours or even a day, if you can do it.  Knowing they're at the movies or the park with someone they like and you trust is a huge relief.  If you can keep the children overnight so a mom can stay with dad (or get a true full night's rest)  that could be a tremendous gift.  (And it allows the kids to do something that isn't sickness-centered.)

Make or take a meal: Often when there's serious illness, everyone's schedule is disrupted to take care of the patient.  If you can cook double and drop by a pan of lasagne, or a meat loaf or roast chicken and some vegetables, that's one less thing a stressed family has to worry about.

Ask if there's any errand, any task you can do while your friend is laid up.  Maybe she needs videos returned, bills mailed or the washing machine repairman let into her home.  Dog owners always worry about their pets.  If you can drop by and take Scruffy for a walk, both Scruffy and his human will appreciate it.

The less the patient has to worry about how his family is doing, the more he can concentrate on his recovery.

And last, but never least, remember the patient and her family in your prayers.  

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Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).