By Sanjay Pinto


Nursing a sick family member can be daunting, exhausting, nerve-racking. Whether it entails hospitalisation or recuperation at home, the suffering is invariably at both ends – the person who is ill and the care giver. Now this is when well wishers need to be more practical and circumspect. Here are ten commandments to follow when someone you know is unwell.


1. Thou Shall Not Gatecrash

A sick person’s home or hospital room is not a public  party to gatecrash. Unless you are a close relative or dear friend, it’s best to let them  rest and those attending to them go about their work unhindered. If you must visit, do try to give them a head’s up. Show up at the appointed time. Do not keep sick people waiting for your grand darshan. Make sure you are not ill yourself. Leave your footwear outside. A patient’s immunity is usually low, which is why they fell sick in the first place. So spare them any more infection that they can handle. A basket of fruits, flowers, hand sanitizers, religious items like holy water or simple home cooked food always come in handy. Do not overstay, unless your presence can be of help, like baby sitting for a while. And while a short prayer, a pep talk and moral support are great, do not engage the sick person in a long conversation and drain out their energy. If they are on intravenous fluids, do not crack jokes and make them laugh. It will hurt.

2. Thou Shall Not Disturb By Calling Non-Stop

You may be curious. Or concerned. Or both. But calling a sick person to check on their health is a bad idea. They need rest and would be in no mood to report on how they are feeling. In case you don’t know, template replies would be ‘weak’,  ‘run down’,  ‘in pain’ and ‘not in a position to take calls’. Ten missed calls would only add to a person’s misery. A simple text message will do. If you don’t get a reply, don’t panic or text question marks. Medication can make people drowsy. So pardon them for not responding to your earth shattering calls and messages. You may reach out to their spouse or children through the social media by a direct message. Chances are that they may have their hands full. Public relations would justifiably rank low in their list of priorities.

3. Thou Shall Not Seek Medical Details

There is something called privacy, especially when it comes to personal medical  details. Do not ask for diagnostic information beyond a point. And certainly not on a public thread. “Is it dengue?” “Is it H1N1?” “What is the doctor saying?” These are banned posers. How will such information help you or the patient? Are you waiting to go fetch medicines from the pharmacy? Are are you a public health authority to whom certain information may statutorily have to be disclosed?

4. Thou Shall Not Suggest Medicines

Just as patients are advised not to self – medicate, outsiders should also refrain from suggesting medicines. Traditional grandma’s home remedies may not be harmful. But there’s a term for laypersons who recommend drugs or tests for others. Quacks. You may have suffered from the same illness earlier and a medicine may have cured you. But what worked for you may not help others. There are allergies and medical conditions and contraindications.

5. Thou Shall Not Like A Status Update On Illness

There are compulsive ‘Like’ button maniacs on the social media. It’s not so much as a slip of the finger but just an irrepressible urge to add a thumbs up to everything they see. Or don’t read. There are blokes who like status updates on sickness, accidents, even death. Facebook, for instance, has a range of options like sadness, anger and so on which pop up when you hold the Like button for a few seconds. Select the emoticon that is relevant to the post.

6. Thou Shall Not Trigger Back & Forth Communication

If a sick person or a relative posts an update on their ill health, a mere ‘Get Well Soon’ wish with a promise to pray will suffice. Such posts are not a town hall meet or an open chat window to engage in back and forth communication. You may be jumping up and down with boundless energy. The person at the other end may have slightly more important tasks on hand. And don’t offer unsolicited advice. I recently had to delete an annoying comment from a person who appeared too clever by half. “Stay near and help” was his pearl of wisdom. To a person spending sleepless nights attending to a dear spouse, that’s the most inappropriate and insensitive thing to say.

7. Thou Shall Not Talk Shop

If you know that someone is unwell, it’s best to steer clear of routine business matters. If you are unaware and are informed about their illness when you call, quickly excuse yourself, wish them a speedy recovery and hang up. Do not continue with your agenda. It reflects poor upbringing.

8. Thou Shall Not Keep Asking For Updates

If you cannot be of any help, that’s fine. No one is indispensable. But do not flood the sick person or the care taker with requests for updates. It’s not the time for breaking news. What can be really exasperating is a person not responding to periodic updates sent out of courtesy and then when an update or two is missed, sending rude messages like “Now?” If you are really that concerned, show up. Or just shut up. You are not helping the cause by demanding medical bulletins from over stretched individuals.

9. Thou Shall Not Tom Tom

Do not share updates on a person’s ill health, unless it’s really required. You may inform a boss at work or a teacher in school about a sick person’s kids not being able to come but anything beyond what is essential would fall into the realm of gossiping. Broadcast achievements and good things about people, if you please. Sick people need positive vibes, not sympathy.

10. Thou Shall Offer Timely Help

There are some folks who wait for a person to recover and then offer help, knowing that it would not be required. It’s like not offering a guest even a glass of water and then lamenting that they could have eaten something just when they are near the door! Such fake and superficial gestures can easily be seen through. If you genuinely want to offer help, make sure it’s at the right time. It may be something as small and thoughtful as offering to home deliver herbs from your garden.

Our inclination to help must not degenerate into a nuisance. The key is to be sensitive, step into the shoes of the ones suffering and act accordingly. Because the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

Claim: Any resemblance or reference to anyone or their recent acts or utterances or posts or ‘likes’  that rings a bell, is purely intentional. If the cap fits you, its yours!

Sanjay Pinto Black Shirt

(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Senior Journalist, Author, Mentor – Silver Tongue Academy Resource & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)



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