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The Care Of An Invalid
Source: Nerves And Common Sense
TO take really good care of one who is ill requires not only
knowledge but intelligent patience and immeasurable tact.
A little knowledge will go a great way, and we do not need to be
trained nurses in order to help our friends to bear their illnesses
patiently and quietly and to adjust things about them so that they
are enabled to get well faster because of the care we give them.
Sometimes if we have only fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen
minutes at night to be with a sick friend, we can so arrange things
for the day and for the night that we will have left behind us a
directly curative influence because our invalid feels cared for in
the best way, and has confidence enough to follow the suggestions we
More depends upon the spirit with which we approach an invalid than
A trained nurse who has graduated at the head of her class and has
executive ability, who knows exactly what to do and when to do it,
may yet bring such a spirit of self-importance and bustle that
everything she does for the invalid's ease, comfort, and
recuperation is counteracted by the unrestful "professional" spirit
with which the work is done.
On the other hand, a woman who has only a slight knowledge of
nursing can bring so restful and unobtrusive an atmosphere with her
that the invalid gains from her very presence.
Overwhelming kindness is not only tiresome and often annoying, but a
serious drag on one who is ill.
People who are so busy doing kindnesses seldom consult the invalid's
preferences at all. They are too full of their own selfish
kindliness and self-importance.
I remember a woman who was suffering intensely from neuralgia in her
face. A friend, proud of the idea of caring for her and giving up
her own pleasure to stay in the darkened room and keep the
sufferer's face bathed in hot water, made such a rustling back and
forth with her skirts in getting the water that the strain of the
constant noise and movement not only counteracted any relief that
might have come from the heat, but it increased the pain and made
the nervous condition of the patient much worse.
So it is with a hundred and one little "kindnesses" that people try
to do for others when they are ill.
They talk to amuse them when the invalids would give all in their
power to have a little quiet.
They sit like lumps and say nothing when a little light, easy
chatting might divert the invalid's attention and so start up a
gentle circulation which would tend directly toward health.
Or, they talk and are entertaining for a while in a very helpful
way, but not knowing when to stop, finally make the patient so tired
that they undo all the good of the first fifteen minutes.
They flood the room with light, "to make it look pleasant," when the
invalid longs for the rest of a darkened room; or they draw the
shades when the patient longs for the cheerfulness of sunlight.
They fuss and move about to do this or that and the other "kindness"
when the sick person longs for absolute quiet.
They shower attentions when the first thing that is desired is to be
let alone. One secret of the whole trouble in this oppressive care
of the sick is that this sort of caretaker is interested more to
please herself and feel the satisfaction of her own benefactions
than she is to really please the friend for whom she is caring.
Another trouble is common ignorance. Some women would gladly
sacrifice anything to help a friend to get well; they would give
their time and their strength gladly and count it as nothing, but
they do not know how to care for the sick. Often such people are
sadly discouraged because they see that they are only bringing
discomfort where, with all their hearts, they desire to bring
comfort. The first necessity in the right care for the sick is to be
quiet and cheerful. The next is to aim, without disturbing the
invalid, to get as true an idea as possible of the condition
necessary to help the patient to get well. The third is to bring
about those conditions with the least possible amount of friction.
Find out what the invalid likes and how she likes it by observation
and not by questions.
Sometimes, of course, a question must be asked. If we receive a
snappish answer, let us not resent it, but blame the illness and be
grateful if, along with the snappishness, we find out what suits our
If we see her increasing her pain by contracting and giving all her
attention to complaining, we cannot help her by telling her that
that sort of thing is not going to make her well. But we can soothe
her in a way that will enable her to see it for herself.
Often the right suggestion, no matter how good it is, will only
annoy the patient and send her farther on in the wrong path; but if
given in some gentle roundabout way, so that she feels that she has
discovered for herself what you have been trying to tell her, it
will work wonders toward her recovery.
If you want to care for the sick in a way that will truly help them
toward recovery, you must observe and study,--study and observe, and
never resent their irritability.
See that they have the right amount of air; that they have the right
nourishment at the right intervals. Let them have things their own
way, and done in their own way so far as is possible without
interfering with what is necessary to their health.
Remember that there are times when it is better to risk deferring
recovery a little rather than force upon an invalid what is not
wanted, especially when it is evident that resistance will be
Quiet, cheerfulness, light, air, nourishment, orderly surroundings,
and to be let judiciously alone; those are the conditions which the
amateur nurse must further, according to her own judgment and, her
knowledge of the friend she is nursing.
For this purpose she must, as I have said, study and observe, and
observe and study.
I do not mean necessarily to do all this when she is "off duty," but
to so concentrate when she is attending to the wants of her friend
that every moment and every thought will be used to the best gain of
the patient herself, and not toward our ideas of her best gain.
A little careful effort of this kind will open a new and interesting
vista to the nurse as well as the patient.
Next: The Habit Of Illness
Previous: Do Not Hurry