Health Care, Love, Wellness

5 practical ways to help a friend dealing with a health crisis

During my bone marrow transplant, I was extremely depressed. The support of my loved ones got me through it.

When I learned I needed a bone marrow transplant to treat my rare blood disease, I was terrified. I’ve lived my whole life with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, so I’m used to doctors’ offices and needles. Chemotherapy, the operation, and the post-op recovery were more taxing on both the mind and body than I could have prepared for. Thankfully, I had the support of wonderful friends and family.  

It’s not uncommon to feel helpless when someone you care about is going through a health crisis, but there are ways you can support them.   

1. Send a message

Image description: A woman in a gray shirt holding a white phone looks distressed as she texts.
Image description: A gif of a woman in a gray shirt holding a white phone looking distressed as she texts via Giphy

A great way to show support is to text. I understand it’s hard to know what to say sometimes. Friends of mine were concerned that they didn’t feel like they could talk to me about their lives while I was going through something so traumatic.

Even if the text was as simple as “thinking of you *heart emoji*” or some silly pop culture gossip, it always meant a lot. My friends understood that I may not answer, depending on how I felt. But, regular conversations kept me connected to the outside world and made me feel less isolated.

2. Recommend movies, TV shows, podcasts – anything!

Image description: George Costanza from television show "Seinfeld" watches tv while eating popcorn.
Image description: A gif of George Costanza from the television show “Seinfeld” watching tv while eating popcorn via Giphy

My best friend handed me a flash drive and a note detailing its contents. Another friend lent me his entire DVD collection. My brother bought me all the silliest and weirdest movies he could find.  Other friends came over with classics from our tween-hood like Aquamarine and Freaky Friday.  

These gestures were not just thoughtful, but useful. I had a lot of time to kill and not a lot of energy.  I had a whole library of hand-picked content at my fingertips provided by my friends and family.

3. Visit if you can

Image description: A gif of Lisa Simpson playing saxophone to her dad, Homer Simpson, who is asleep in a hospital bed. The caption reads "mellow jazz" between two musical notes.
Image description: A gif of Lisa Simpson playing saxophone to her dad, Homer Simpson, who is asleep in a hospital bed. The caption reads “mellow jazz” between two musical notes via Giphy

Okay, this one very much depends on the health crisis going on and if it’s safe to be around. I could only have visitors in small groups as I was in reverse isolation with an immune system wiped out by chemo. 

Being sick is so emotionally exhausting.

I didn’t actually invite anyone to visit me, but they kept in touch with my dad and brother who stayed at my bedside day and night. Even though I was often too sick to speak, their presence was a supportive force I truly needed.

If your friend has a parent, partner, or friend you can contact about visiting, it may be a good idea to plan through them. It’s more likely than not that your friend won’t reach out, so try to make arrangements yourself. If your friend isn’t feeling up for visitors, respect that.

4. Be patient

Image description: Mariah Carey on a late night show, taking a deep breath and gesturing with her hands.
Image description: A gif of Mariah Carey on a late-night show, taking a deep breath and gesturing with her hands via Giphy

I became severely depressed during the months of my ordeal, which can affect personal relationships. Some days, it was hard to find the will to move, let alone hold a conversation. My partner was incredibly patient with me despite my ups and downs.

Even turning on the TV was too much effort on my worst days.

He still came to my hospital room every weekend when he wasn’t in school to hold hands with my near-comatose, sickly bod. He never got frustrated with me or made me feel bad. After the operation when I was slowly trying to feel like a human again, my loved ones were the force that kept me going. When a friend is going through any crisis, be patient and understanding with them.

5. Help them to stay focused on the future

Image description: In a scene from "Scrubs", a woman with short brown hair appears tense while talking with a man, while another, a doctor, cheers her on from behind.

It’s hard to remain hopeful or cheerful when you feel like shit in every way possible.

From beginning to end, my transplant was a four-month ordeal. The days stretched on ahead of me and it felt like the nightmare would never end. My days lacked social interaction and the food was bleak. I had a severe stomach pain and way too much time on my hands.

Depression turned me into a shell of the person I had been just a few months before. I genuinely could not see myself ever getting better.

My loved ones helped me to stay focused on the future. My friends, my partner and I made plans to move to the city together when I was ready. We talked about trips to the beach and what our lives would look like in a few months. We talked about what my hair would look like when it finally grew back.

It was hard for me to focus on the future by myself, but the people in my life helped me to keep my head up.