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 patient best.