How to be at the Bedside

If someone you care about gets very sick, you may not know what to expect or what to do. This Memorandum is intended to help you and your loved one make the best of this time. The time you spend at the bedside of someone who is seriously ill is something you will never forget. It will be hard at first, but later you will feel glad that you were there.

What to expect at the bedside:

People are different, and so are the ways they handle serious illness. It’s a good idea to give your loved one the freedom to handle sickness in his or her own way. Your loved one who is sick may act just like before or he or she may seem like a different person to you. A lot depends on what the illness is and whether a recovery is possible or not. Your loved one might be:

  • Afraid of dying or wanting to die
  • Tired all the time and wanting to sleep
  • Confused or unable to recognize family members and friends
  • Cool or hot to the touch
  • Unwilling to have visitors or afraid of being left alone
  • Having trouble getting to the bathroom or going to the bathroom
  • Finding it hard to breathe normally
  • Talking about the same thing over and over, or not wanting to talk
  • Restless, unhappy, depressed or in pain

All of these things are common. The best thing you can do is to be prepared so that you won’t be surprised by these symptoms of serious illness. Do what you can to make your loved one as comfortable as possible. If your loved one is unable to make decisions, you should talk to the nurse or doctor about whether there are medicines or treatments that can make things better.

What to do by the bedside:

First of all, just being there with your loved one is the most important thing you can do. Don’t worry about having the right things to say. In fact, you may just want to say to your loved one, “I don’t know what to say to you. I just want to be with you, and I’m glad I’m here.”

People who are very sick might want their loved one to:

  • Hold their hand, put a cool cloth on their forehead, or softly stroke their hair
  • Read to them from a newspaper, magazine or things you know they like
  • Play some music for them
  • Show photographs and tell stories of people you both know
  • Talk about current events in the news, or movies you’ve seen, or things you’ve done
  • Listen to them, even if what they say doesn’t make much sense (you can respond, “Oh, is that right? Or “Wow, that’s something!”