Based on my experience, I have learned to offer practical help, instead of asking the patient for suggestions. I find if I ask her, “What can I do for you?” she is likely to say, “Nothing!” I know when someone asks me that question, that is my default answer too.
When I first came home from hospital after surgery for cancer, I was relieved when a member of the congregation announced they had organised over a week’s worth of suppers for us. Each evening, someone rocked up at the door with a hot meal for the family. That saved my husband learning to cook in the middle of our crisis, and it saved me the stress of letting him try and not interfere! Had they asked how they could help, I would almost have certainly said, “Nothing thanks, we’re fine. I have Rob to help.”
Just after I arrived from the hospital my younger son came home with a dental abscess. A lady took him to the dentist for two visits in the same day. She had arranged this with my son before I knew he had a problem. This sort of gesture is a huge help.
Depending on the schedule of treatment, your friend may need help with cooking, but also cleaning, laundry, changing baby’s diapers, picking up the kids, etc., not to mention transport as time goes on. I had a friend cut my toe-nails at a time when I couldn’t reach them. The same friend washed my hair for me when I first came out of hospital.
Obviously most of these need clearance with your friend first. But using my example above, rather than asking, “What can I do to help?” it might work better to ask, “Can I pick up the kids for you and drop them off at home? I go there to fetch mine anyway.” Now your friend doesn’t feel as if she’s being a nuisance to you.
If you are visiting and the baby has a definite odour, make a joke and lift her up, saying, “You, young lady, need a change.” Look at your friend and ask, “May I change her?” as if she’s doing you a favour by letting you work with her baby.
The friend who cut my toe nails was visiting me when she noticed the nails on my bare toes were getting long. She opened her bag and dug out a pair of nail clippers, at the same time asking, “May I cut those for you? You obviously can’t reach them.” (My arm was in a sling and no, I couldn’t.)
One friend arrived at my home complete with a towel, doggy shampoo, and a pair of sharp scissors. She announced she had come to trim my shaggy Maltese Poodle for me, and I should just go on with what I was doing while she worked on the dog outside. What a wonderful help, one which Candy also appreciated (after it was over!)
Transport to radiation was a problem for me. Most days, Rob could take me, but there were days he had other commitments. I could drive myself there (45 minutes drive) but by the time the treatment was over, I was too exhausted. I would have been a hazard on the road. That was one time I had to ask for help. I couldn’t risk causing an accident. Yet fortunately, a couple of friends had previously asked me, “Can I drive you to the doctor or anywhere?” It was easy for me to phone and ask for help.
If your friend needs a lot of help over a long period, consider creating a free web-based calendar, and advertise it among her other family and friends. People can sign up for the tasks they can help with and choose their dates as well. (Ask your friend if you may do this before barging ahead.)
Just always remember not to push in and do things your friend really doesn’t want. Don’t add to her already-too-high stress level! Look for practical ways you can help, then make your offer in such a way that you will not embarrass her. Allow her to say, “No thanks!” Just the fact that you have offered opens the door for her to come back if she needs your help later, as illustrated above with my friends who offered to drive me to appointments.