How To Deal With An Injured Friend

One of my favourite bloggers, Heather, wrote a post not that long ago titled “How To Visit A New Mom.” I loved it because I’m now of the age where friends are having babies, but I’m still young enough that I don’t have that much experience with newborns. Or moreover, the mothers of newborns.

I thought it might be useful to write a post in a similar vein about my experience dealing with a serious injury. In other words, how to deal with an injured friend.

Keep in mind, everyone’s injury experience is unique and we all deal with it differently. These tips are based on how I deal with things.


1. Don’t say “you’ll be better soon!”

I’ve gone over this before, but it’s worth noting again. For many people, injury means they will never technically be “better.” There will always be nagging pain, risk of re-injury, loss of mobility, etc. Some people may also see it as someone minimizing the seriousness of their injury by just assuming it will heal quickly.


2. Don’t ask if you can help, just do it automatically.

You know when you ask your mom if you can help with supper even when you have no intention of getting your butt off the couch? I get offers like that all the time. Chances are, if you ask me if I need help doing something, I’ll turn down the offer out of pride. What I appreciate more is when someone is attentive enough to notice I’m struggling, or could struggle with something, and automatically does it for me. There’s no verbal put-down, and the action is appreciated more than the offer.


3. Don’t assume I’m not in pain.

I experience pain so frequently now, it’s not even worth mentioning it when I do. So just because I haven’t mentioned feeling pain in a while, doesn’t mean I haven’t. This happens a lot when I am moving my arm around. It may look seamless to an outside eye, but typically any mobility I’ve gained recently comes with shooting pain each time it’s moved that far.


4. DO share your stories.

A lot of people are scared to share their own accounts of injury in fear of belittling the situation at hand. I however revel in hearing about the misery of other people’s injuries and pain. Even if it’s a sprained toe or broken finger, connecting with people who have also been injured makes me feel less alone in the whole thing.


5. Physiotherapy is not a spa.

(my arm being pulled down with weight in physio yesterday)

It’s torture. If you know someone who is doing physio, do not take it lightly. It’s typically very painful and not enjoyable in the least. Physio is the only time I’ve felt 10/10 pain since first coming out of surgery. It’s not uncommon for me to scream or cry during a session. Not to mention, pain makes me feel really nauseous, so I leave feeling sick too.


6. Injury talk is not small talk.

Someone commented a while back saying it got irritating when people would immediately ask about her injury when they saw her. This happens to me all the time too. People I don’t see every day go “How is your arm doing?” as soon as they see me as a way of making easy conversation. Unfortunately, my arm is not doing well, so saying this is a total conversation killer and makes for an awkward moment. It also makes the injured person feel like they are the injury, instead of asking how they’re doing as a whole.


7. An injury isn’t just about losing the ability to do the things I used to.

It’s also about losing the ability to do things I could have done. My injury isn’t just about not being able to do yoga or play guitar anymore. It’s also mourning the loss of the things I wanted to do but now can’t: rock climb, join a rowing team, learn how to play violin. Never say, “Oh, it’s not like you were into kayaking anyway,” because you don’t know if it’s something I’m bitter about not being able to try.


How about you? Do you have anything to add to the list?

Posted on June 16, 2011, in Injury. Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Susan, it breaks my heart to read this post…on so many levels, but i think it’s a great one to put out there.

    And on Heab’s post…I left a bible length comment when she wrote it but yes, it was 100% spot on.

    And although I dont have an injury like yours, as we have discussed on email, I do have other things and people say the DUMBEST things…or ask the most ignorant questions and it’s so bewildering to me but I truly think people just dont know, dont have the ability to put themselves in your shoes, and so it’s good you’re telling them in black and white language what is helpful and what is not!

  2. I really like the one about don’t say you’ll be better soon. When I had shoulder surgery, It was devastating and all anyone said was oh well you’ll get better soon this is helping. Well thanks-but my swim meets are now and that isn’t very encouraging.

    My heart goes out to you as well Oh Susan the brunch connoisseur.

    • Funny, I think “My heart goes out to you” may actually be one of the best things to say to an injured person! We usually don’t need positive encouragement, just a little love and support :)

  3. Loved this post, Susan. I can be very awkward at times, so this is very helpful in this specific situation. While reading, I was thinking about friends who are injured, who have family members that are injured, as well as friends who have diseases like cancer. Very helpful, especially the sharing your stories one – because of the very point you made about belittling :)

  4. One of the most frustrating comments I’ve received during a few separate occasions when I’ve been injured (right now included) is “this will be good for you; it will force you to slow down for a while/teach you some patience/give you a chance to rest.” An injury is never good, for anyone! You will no doubt glean some insight, such as you have shared here and which may have value, but an injury should never be esteemed as a teaching tool. I just don’t trust people who say they are glad they got injured, because they learned so much about themselves, their abilities, etc. (…perhaps my friends and family are just trying to tell me I’m an impatient busybody? Hm.)

  5. Thanks for the tips! I am the queen of not knowing what to say or do!

  6. Susan,
    I’ve been reading your posts with delight. You’re a great writer, and can make anything seem interesting. I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this with your elbow; what an awful spot for an injury! I just loved your list, and I can relate because I was injured 13 years ago and have been in chronic pain since. People do mean well (sometimes!), but most of them just don’t think when they say things to you. Every time I run into someone who knows my story they ask “How’s the pain?” I feel like saying “How do you think it is @#$#$%%###@!” I spent years researching my condition, and actually found a surgeon who did help a little with the pain, but the surgery was 5 hours, it took one year to recover, and I agree about Physio; it’s no walk in the park. The other thing they say is, “My brother (sister, baby-sitter, baby daddy, etc, etc) had the SAME thing and they did yoga and it cured them.” First of all, don’t assume your friend had the same thing I do, and secondly, I have tried every bizarre treatment I could find to see if it would work, so I don’t need to hear about the Goji berry from the Himalayas that will cure you and only costs $150 a bottle. Also, I really connected with your comment about not being able to do the things you had one day planned to do. When that surgeon called me, the first thing I wanted to do was run out and buy a new pair of hiking boots! I was so thrilled, thinking I would be able to do some of those things I had loved, but wasn’t able to. Good thing I didn’t buy them, because I still can’t hike. A word of advice I would give people is, if you are invited to go and do something you’ve always wanted to, but think it’s too expensive, or I can’t take the time off right now, DON’T make excuses, just DO IT! You may have an accident today and not be able to walk tomorrow. Get everything out of life you can, while you still can. Thanks for listening to me rant, and thank you for the delicious-looking pics and recipes of food! I am definitely going to try some of them out!
    Cheers! Mia :)

    • I love this comment! Especially the part about people making recommendations because it worked for someone they know. I’m still at the point where I have a lot of things to try, so I appreciate finding out about new things. But the yoga suggestion is the best – I WISH I could do yoga!!

  7. Good tips. I’m sure people feel awkward, unsure of what to say or do. Like we don’t want to treat the friend like an invalid but we also don’t want to just ignore the injury!!

    When I had surgery on my ankle and was really struggling to get around, what I wanted most was a friend to contact me and say “Can I go to the grocery store for you?” Or offer to take me to the store. That was the hardest part. :(

  8. This post is so helpful, and I think it really translates to a lot of illnesses in general! This can feel like such a touchy subject, but I think it’s important to just be real with an injured/ill friend and address the issue and move on with the conversation!

  9. Susan, I relate to this 100%!

    1. When people said “you’ll be better soon”, it used to make me want to cry because they just didn’t understand. Now I recognize that that’s just it – they don’t understand but that’s okay because they love me.

    2. I hate asking for help; I always have. But I need more help than ever before so it’s such a treat when people do something nice for me without me having to ask.

    3. I hide my pain from just about everyone. There’s no point in talking about it all the time. But it’s always there, and just because I’m smiling and functioning to the best of my ability doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it.

    4. Your posts have meant so much to me because for the longest time I didn’t think many people could understand how I felt. It’s really confusing for someone to imagine a person who looks young and healthy to have some kind of physical disability (yep, it IS a disability!).

    5. Yep, PT is work! I consider my PT exercises part of my job.

    6. So true! I am not defined by my chronic pain, but it is a whole lot bigger than just “small talk”.

    7. Oh gosh. I think I commented before about going on the “forever path”. It’s the mental stuff like that that makes having a disability so harder (I think it’s harder than the pain itself). It’s looking at a seventy year-old woman walking down the road and thinking that she feels better than you do right now. It’s heartbreak in a way.

    If there was anything I could add to the list, it would be to not assume that I can’t do things. I just have to do them differently now. For a while, my family stopped doing activities that they thought I could no longer do. I had to explain to them that all we had to do was adjust things and then I could join in on the fun!

    Sorry for the epically long comment! Have a lovely Thursday!

    • About #7 – you’ve made me realize I really need to stop thinking in terms of “forever.” I think it’s just too depressing! It’s probably better to just think I can’t do something “right now.”

      And as for your last comment, YES! I can still do a lot of things, but really I just do them more slowly now. I’m always having to remind people that they’ll just have to wait for me because putting on my jacket takes twice as long as it used to.

  10. For me the most annoying thing was people telling me to be careful and always with the “Are you overdoing it?” “Should you be doing that?”

    Yes, I was injured, but not totally incapacitated. I listened to my body and did what I could. If it hurt too much, I stopped.

    I totally appreciated small gestures by people though. Like John going out for a bike ride and I was so bummed because I couldn’t ride. So he stopped on the way home and bought a bunch of canned pumpkin for me! :D

  11. The don’t asking for help thing. If I’ve realized anything over these last few months, it’s that you just help. You don’t ask is there is anything you can do. You show up ready to help – Where is your laundry? I’m here to walk the dogs. I’m dropping off dinner, what would you like? Trust me, I get it.

    These are wonderful tips Susan, and I just wanted to add that your nails look pretty. :)

  12. This is enlightening. I think that the problem is always that people MEAN well, but they have never been in your shoes so they (mistakenly) say things that they THINK are helpful/encouraging/etc but are not. For example “injury is not small talk”… I totally understand how you’d include that on the list. But someone who hasn’t seen you in a while will be genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of your arm and hence, of YOU, so they’ll ask ‘how’s your arm?” Right? And they will have no idea that they just might have been insulting.

    I was also reading this list from the perspectives of other kinds of loss, because that is what it is: Loss of your former abilities etc. So really, I think it could go for someone passing away, divorce, losing a child, all sorts of other horrific things. (and I suppose the physio would become psycho therapy?). Just thoughts. I think that you have a lot to teach the world about these things. Bookmarking for future.

    Hugs. Wish I lived closer and could just pop over with a protein muffin :-)

  13. This post affected me greatly. I need a post on ‘How to deal with a verbally abused friend.’ I want to be supportive, understanding and not be an enabler of her ‘Pity Party’ It really is hard to know the right thing to say. I have been talking to friends about your post Susan and it has lead to good discussions.
    <3 to you.

    • Thank you! I think we need more “how-to” posts when it comes to dealing with loved ones in tough situations. I still think the best thing anyone can ever do is just be there. A shoulder to lean and cry on is most often all we ever need <3

  14. YES.
    Thank you.

    My shoulder is injured (torn) from a stupid bike fall. The stupidiest fall. Not even while training, just commuting back from the pool, a 7 minutes-ride home…
    Your two last points, YES. I hate the small talk injury “how is the shoulder?” Still torn. (In Québec, you have to wait months (6 months +) for surgery. I know it is polite small talk, but whatever, the answer makes me sad and there is nothing you can say, nothing, which is ackward, yes.
    And athough not being able to swim (I’m a triathlete) or really do yoga kills me, it is the dreams that I had that I need to forget that hurt the most (Ironman in 2012).

    • Uuggghh, I can only imagine how frustrating it can be to have an injury come from what you view as a silly accident. I at least get a little bit of satisfaction knowing mine came from skating the Rideau Canal, something I aaaalllways wanted to do. My surgery was also an emergency one because my bones were literally floating in my arm, they had to be reconnected to their oxygen supply immediately if there was any hope in saving them. It was less than 24 hours and two surgeons tell me that it was still too long for the bones to go without oxygen, which is why they’re not healing. I really hope your get some relief with your shoulder!!!

  15. Everything you said in this list hit the nail on the head! To this day I get people asking me how my arm is because they have nothing else to talk to me about. It’s been 4 years…. uh.. yeah. Sometimes I forget I even broke it.

    I was late to the party reading this one–not sure how I missed it but I saw Deb mentioned it–so I am glad she did. This was a good list. And you are a great friend. Love you.

  16. I am catching up on your posts this week. Thank you for writing this!
    When I was on crutches with an unknown injury five years ago I hated when people asked how I was doing. I know they meant well but I could either lie or tell them exactly how I was doing which some days I wasn’t even sure how I was. Although I look fine now, what happened five years ago has taught me to listen to my body and try to balance my life, it also makes me afraid of pushing myself physically. I don’t always push myself when I am exercising because in the back of my head, I am afraid of hurting myself, any twinge I get makes me more cautious. On the positive side, this unknown injury has allowed me to connect with some people better than if I had never had the injury. It has also made me more aware of what someone goes through when they are injured or have limited mobility.

  17. This is awesome. You are a great writer, and I love your no-nonsense approach to potentially sensitive topics.

    I have just one more thing to add (as someone who’s been dealing with an injury, involving two hip surgeries, for over 14 months): so many people offer their help initially and then disappear. Did they anticipate that I suddenly got better after the first two weeks? So, my suggestion is to check in every now and then. I’ve been unable to work this whole time, so I’ve had a lot of stir-crazy moments where I would’ve *loved* more people checking in! :)

    Take care, Susan. :)

  18. My husband has a very similar elbow injury to yours (except he did ejecting from a fighter jet) and he hates when people act like he’s fragile. That might be the Marine in him, but he still wants to lift his own suitcase :)

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