You’re at work or running errands and suddenly you get a call. Someone you know and care about has been seriously injured, or maybe they got some test results back that were the opposite of promising. After you deal with your own shock and perhaps even grief, the next thing you think is probably, “What can I do?”

It can be easy, especially in very serious cases, to think there’s nothing you can do. If someone’s situation is particularly dire and makes you particularly emotional, it will be easy to think “Well, it’s not going to help them if I’m just around them being sad, making them more worried.”

But when someone is going through a crisis of any kind, one of the most vital things to keeping them hopeful is support. Here are some ways that you can help the people you care about when they’re having a medical crisis.

  1. Offer specific ways of help.
  • So often when someone is having a hard time, people will say “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” They say it with total honesty and kindness, but they don’t realise that often the person in crisis will feel like asking for help from others would be burdensome for them, even if it has been offered. Instead what works best and tends to me way more helpful is offering specific ways to help, often without even asking. Things like “I’m going to be near the hospital on Tuesday, can I go visit?” or “I can pick your kids up from school today.” are more specific and don’t require the person in crisis to feel like they’re asking a lot of you.

2. Give their family gas gift cards.

  • Especially for people with chronic conditions or illnesses that will require lots of doctors’ visits, the miles add up going back and forth from appointments. A full tank of gas will be greatly appreciated.

3. Give the gift of a meal.

  • Both the person in crisis and their family will appreciate this. Going back and forth from the hospital, families generally don’t have as much time as usual to make something nourishing and healthy at home for their meals, and hospital food can get repetitive and bland. Give the family something they can freeze, and bring the patient something fresh like fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked croissants or their favorite snack (granted they are permitted by their doctor’s orders).  Whole Foods has an amazing food bar that has healthy tasty food and you can prepare them plates of food for not much more that a fast food meal.

4. Visit.

  • This can sometimes be one of the more difficult ones, because sometimes when we know someone has had a medical emergency we so badly want to see them but we don’t know what to say once we’re there so we end up not going, or only staying for a few minutes. But the gift of a friend’s presence is so great when you’re in the hospital. Bring a board game, a movie, nail polish, etc. Just something to do so they can spend time with you.

5. Make sure their pets are taken care of.

  • If someone has a pet and they suddenly find themselves in the hospital, they may be constantly worrying about their pet when what they need to be doing is lowering their level of stress so they can relax and recover. Offering to take care of their pet for them for a week or two can be a huge relief to a pet parent who can’t be home to take care of them themselves.

6. Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation.

  • When someone is going through a hard time and they talk to you about it, they don’t necessarily always want you to help them come up with a solution. Sometimes when someone is telling you about their crisis all they really want is a sympathetic ear. Someone to attentively listen to their whole story, give them a hug and say, “Man, that must be so hard to deal with. I’m so sorry.” Remind them that they are brave and strong, and that they have a whole network of support.

7. Visit them in the nursing home.  Often when a friend or family member gets to the point in life where they require long term care in a facility such as a nursing home, their social activity with other people drops off the map.  The true is that no one likes to go visit a nursing home but imagine if it was you all by yourself in that strange smelly place.  Would you want frequent visitors.  Now not all facilities are bad, in fact if a person has LTC Insurance, they often can then afford to stay at the Ritz Carlton of assisted living facilities.  When they stay at better place they of course get more visitors.  However, if your friend is poor and on Medicaid and is at one of the smelly places, suck it up and go see them.  It will mean the world to them.