I can't fix it, but how can I help after my friend was hit by a car?
April 24, 2014 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Friend's quality of life has been ruined by a drunk driver. She can't do any of the stuff she used to do and she's in a lot of pain. This is her new normal -- she will never be her old self again. I feel sad and helpless about it. Is there anything at all I can do for her? Specifics below.

A loved one was hit by a car about a year ago. We all hoped she would get back to "normal" but it's not happening. Her range of motion is still very limited and she suffers a great deal of pain. Basically, the accident severely damaged her back and neck. (See my previous question here. Obviously, back then I didn't know this would be permanent.) Turning and bending her body is hard and even just sitting upright for a long time can become difficult. It appears this is her new "normal." Honestly, it breaks my heart. I am teary just typing this question. It's so hard to see someone I love struggle so much. Things she used to love to do -- bike riding, skiing, swimming, going to see plays, traveling and so many other things are either out of the question entirely or extremely hard for her. She will basically never work full time again. Her office has been very understanding and has let her work part-time from home, but she was once a very important person at her company of 20+ years and that is slipping away too. (Infuriatingly, what happened was 0% her fault. Some guy who had been drinking plowed through a solid red while she was crossing the street on her bike. We think police handled it poorly. So there is of course an element of outrage and injustice surrounding the whole thing too.)

The thing that kills me is I don't know how I can help. I tried to visit her and bring dinner and hang out because I know she is stuck at home a lot of the time, but now I have moved to the other side of the country and can't see her. I know she has been fighting hard to not let this situation caused her to become depressed. She still wakes up every morning and gets dressed and tries to live her life, but I know it's really hard. She can't really do very much. All I want is to make her feel better and I can't. I sent her an email and tried to express to her how much I care about her and miss her, but I know she really doesn't want pity and I don't know if she really wants to talk about how hard the situation is. I think it's easier if we still talk about normal things and be normal, even though she does offer updates about what doctors are saying or how her legal case is proceeding.

So, sorry for being so long, but basically does anyone have ideas on how I could make her life even 1% better or even 1% happier or give her 1% better quality of life? I feel so helpless and I feel so upset. All I want is to make it better and I can't. I can't give her her life back. It's hard to know that all the things she planned to do now that her kids had moved out and she had more time with her husband will never happen. Like I said, I don't think she wants pity and she already has a cleaning lady, for instance, that makes her life a bit easier. Is there anything I can do for her at all? I believe she is in physical therapy but it isn't helping. She's tried alternative therapies. And I don't think she actually needs money anyway. If there was something I could do to make her life easier, or better or make her feel more loved, I would like to try to do something.

Honestly, words don't express how shitty about feel about the whole thing. Is there anything at all I can do? Thanks.
posted by AppleTurnover to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
No. There is nothing you can do to fix this.

Having accepted this, the best thing you can do is continue to be her friend. Because not everyone will, and she will lose friends as this drags on and she's less fun and more burdened. So, call, email, interact on Facebook, and follow up on the details she's willing to share with you but be a normal friend.

If you want to ask how to maintain a friendship long-distance, that's a different question but I think the answer to this question is: maintain the friendship, even over the distance.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 PM on April 24, 2014 [13 favorites]

Yeah, I think the thing is, to be there for the long haul and not just the dramatic moments. Take your cues from her on topics, make sure to visit when able, keep in touch etc. One decent idea is to start writing actual letters. They take time and thought, much much more so than email or phone calls.
posted by edgeways at 6:38 PM on April 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Set up regular dates to talk over skype/facetime/the phone - they don't have to be long, or contestants for "best conversation ever!"

Take pictures of your new place and send or post them so she can see it and think of you on your couch (or whatever) when you're chatting.

Think small, but frequent. Not everything has to be cheerful! and awesome! You can't make her better, but you can bring a little relief and give her little things to looks forward to or be surprised by - like: little care packages, not stuffed with crap but with one or two local-to-you treats, something personal from or about you/your relationship with her, things like that. A lot of people think that because they can't fix everything, they shouldn't do anything. And that's silly. You want to make her feel loved, so love her and show that!
posted by rtha at 6:50 PM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't know how comparable it is, but over the last few years a series of joint problems have left me with a lot of limitations. I wake up very sore and stiff and take until midday to get going. I can get a few good hours in, usually, and then things decline. I'm still in my thirties and I have a handicapped parking permit. Not exactly what I expected.

So from here: I appreciate when people acknowledge my limitations and I really thrill to practical help, but other than that I don't really want to think about rheumatology when I am with a friend. If there is a New Thing medically maybe it's worth mentioning in passing, but other than that, no, and it would cut me to hear that somebody felt pity for me. The joint stuff sucks but my life is still pretty great. Yes, talk about normal things and be normal.

In re. "She's tried alternative therapies" -- grass? I gotta suggest grass. It doesn't have to be smoked; it's a simple process to render it into capsules one can swallow.

If you have the finances just get on a plane and go visit periodically, possibly (depending on the resources available to her for housekeeping, and her comfort level with something like you washing dishes) staying in a nearby hotel instead of at her home. You can't fix her body but you can be her friend, so focus on the friendship rather than the body.
posted by kmennie at 6:56 PM on April 24, 2014

First, from my personal experience of recovery from severe injury, a year is not enough time to know for certain that your friend has reached her "new normal". Physical therapy is often agonizingly slow to yield results and multiple plateaus are not uncommon. Finding an effective course of pain management and adjusting to new ways to manage daily activities can be even slower.

But by now, many of her outlets for sharing her struggle -- whether celebrating the small advances or grieving the perhaps-never-to-be-regained losses -- may be exhausted. Sadly, even good, kind people can just get tired of hearing the minutia of a long, slow recovery. So they pull away.

As others suggest, what she needs most from you is what you have always offered -- your friendship. Just beware of beginning to see her only as your tragically disabled friend. You and she have a shared history. You both remember the person she used to be. That's a good thing, to share memories. She is different now, but even if this terrible thing had not happened, she would be different now. You are different now. We all grow and change. Give her a friendship that treasures her where she is today, and grows with her as she continues to change.
posted by peakcomm at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2014 [19 favorites]

I just wanted to agree with what peakcomm wrote. I have a friend who had an accident in which a horse fell on her three times (full body weight, while struggling to get up). Massive injuries, miraculous that she survived. Her recovery has been so slow, but she has said herself that she is not at her new normal. Just being her friend is huge. My friend has told me numerous times that her friends are what help her get through each day.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:20 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a good friend who is long distance. My favorite thing to do with her is to watch the same show and talk about it. We have been doing Sex and the City lately and it's super fun. I also send her care packages and she does the same for me. I recently had flowers delivered to her office and it was a huge hit. When I am getting myself something I love like a Lush bath bomb I grab one for her too and mail it off. That kind of thing. We also text a lot, just little things every few days or weeks. I send her email links that I think she would like.

I realize that your question is about how to support your friend after a tragic accident. I think the best thing you can do is not change the tone of your friendship all that much. Just be yourself and do what you would do for any friend who you were no longer proximal with but still wanted to remain close to.

Finally, I have a chronic illness and it makes me really unhappy when people dote on me or ask me how I am doing health wise. I am not your friend but I would suggest not bringing her accident up or mentioning it - if she wants to talk about it with you, let her mention it. Don't refer to it in your letters or emails much unless she does first. When people ask me about my health it just makes me feel bad. It reminds me of my situation and is frustrating. I don't need more reminders!

You sound like an incredibly lovely and very caring friend. Just keep being a friend - that's the best thing you can do for her.
posted by sockermom at 7:35 PM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just echoing what others have said about being a normal friend - your emotions are touching and real but don't let your sorrow and grief that you displayed here show to your friend. Try to stay upbeat. Maybe you can do something together through Skype - play a game, watch the same show, read a chapter of a book per week or something else interactive and non-physical.

A side note - chronic pain really starts to get to people and it is a huge burden. There are pain psychologists that can help people deal with the emotional aspect to chronic pain. A lot of people shy away from working on the psychological aspect because they feel like that is admitting that the pain is "in their head." I think that prevents a lot of people from seeking help. She can still get better but it's a huge transition to go from hoping for a cure to hoping for a way to just get through each day. Be supportive, she is lucky to have you!
posted by Skadi at 7:58 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think just by continuing to be her friend, support her when she needs it and follow her lead. Make sure that you treat her as your friend first and foremost, not just focus on her injury.

Maybe fun things in the mail to cheer her up? Doesn't have to be expensive- a postcard showing your city, silly things like temporary tattoos, a funny card.

Maybe try encouraging her interest in a new hobby? If it's something that you would enjoy learning too it would give you something to write about, talk on the phone about.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 8:58 PM on April 24, 2014

Sockermom's experience is different from mine. I appreciate people asking about health because frankly, very few people do - my situation means I have to appear healthy and functional, so the only people who see me sick are really my family. I'm fortunate because of the nature of my illness and work that I can do that. I don't go into health much with people who ask out of weird shyness, but I do appreciate them asking more than a perfunctory question and showing sympathy. That has meant a great deal to me.

I would ask her outright if she wants to be able to vent about her health to you, or if she has someone else she can vent to. Say hey if it helps, you can talk to me about all your health stuff and pain issues. We can do it whenever you want, or you can tell me once a week and then nothing else about it the rest of the week, or I can be the person who never bugs you about health stuff. And if you change our mind later, just tell me. Bring it up rather than dancing around the subject. The very few people who have done this for me have been so so appreciated and make it easier for me to not vent to other people.

And suggest stuff to share long-distance. Watching the same show and live-chatting about it, sending books you've read to her with notes, and doing a tiny bookclub, whatever shared interest you have that can be done in tandem.

My sister sends me research stuff about stroke that she gets at work as a FYI, and I really appreciate that, no "try this", just "saw this, thought you might be interested" as though my illness is real and not something to be ignored. I get little hey you! cards from another friend that are just so awesome - postal mail makes a huuuuge difference, simple quirky notes in the mailbox = better day.

I've just started Good Days, Bad Days from a mefi recommendation I think, and so far it's really good as a collection of accounts of what it's like to live with chronic illness. Don't buy it for her, but borrow it and read it to get some insight into what daily life is like for her now?

Also ask her if there's a particular time of day that works best to call/chat. I have more energy mid morning or for lunch. Dinner is exhausting and I have to plan my whole day to be available then, and evening phone calls are hit and miss if I'll be a zombie.

Thanks for asking this. You probably wouldn't be surprised but people back off when there's illness, especially when it's a long term illness with no prospect of recovery. I've been really lucky to see some friends step up, but I still remember clearly eagerly opening an email from an old friend and the pain of reading that she couldn't bear to hear any more about my suffering so she would no longer be in contact, and she just wanted to let me know so I wouldn't try to get in touch.

Just being her friend - that's a gift already.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:02 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some of my friends regularly do craft evenings together. Some others do the same with arts. Reduced mobility means she's probably going to spend more of her life consuming (tv etc), so spending time creating (alongside friends!) might be a nice change.
posted by anonymisc at 9:26 PM on April 24, 2014

Her PT is probably covered by health insurance but massage is probably not covered, and it can help.
Or chiro, or acupuncture, or reiki, or whatever she thinks helps but isn't covered.
Buy a few massage sessions. Send the therapist to her house if it helps.
Buy her lotions/oils/creams/whatever feels like it helps.
Realize she is probably in pain or feels like she is 100 years old most of the time.
When you are together don't make her walk or carry anything or open doors. Just let her be comfortable and cater to her.
posted by littlewater at 10:28 PM on April 24, 2014

I had a pretty terrible car accident about 20 years ago that resulted in the loss of two disks in my lower back, and gave me sciatica (the most pain I've ever been in). It took me 3 years to recover, but I did!

So accept that these things are very slow, and take a lot of work, and that sometimes, when you think you'll forever be using that motorized cart in the supermarket, a treatment will take, and you'll feel about 95% good.

Sure, when it's damp and the barometer drops, I ache a little, but over all, I'm VERY thankful for my recover.

So don't give up hope!

If this is her new normal, then be normal about it. My friends invited me places, and I went, depending on how I felt. If she feels like talking on the phone, awesome, if she doesn't call another day.

No matter what, it's going to be okay, because at the end of the day, this is life we're talking about and even if we hurt, we find meaning and joy in it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, spinal cord injury here (wheelchair user)

The best thing you can do is making absolutely sure your friend knows that she can ask you for help.

A not-great thing is to communicate to her in any way that her best days are behind her, because, who knows? My best days have been post-spinal cord injury.
posted by angrycat at 5:43 AM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

No matter what, it's going to be okay, because at the end of the day, this is life we're talking about and even if we hurt, we find meaning and joy in it.


A friend of mine were in a serious, serious car accident years ago. She was lucky to survive and fifteen years on, she's still in pain and has reduced mobility. At first, these things really suck and it's really, really hard to adjust to the new normal. My friend went through the usual stages of coming to terms with her new life. We all just hung on and listened to her, visited her in hospital whenever she had surgery, and helped out wherever we could. Today she is married (to one of that small circle of friends who just wouldn't let her go when she needed us), has a regular job, and has a good, rich life filled with people love her and who understand if she has to cancel an appointment at short notice.

The best way to improve your friend's life is simply just being there for her through the bad bits as well as the good bits. Don't judge, don't presume, and just offer love.
posted by kariebookish at 5:44 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am very sorry to hear this. The best thing you can do is be a friend. Also help her to focus on the good in her life. Maybe look out for and introduce her to new experiences that she can participate. Another thing would be to look for groups that she may be able to join. Maybe a hobby that she can undertake. What about cyclist groups who have gone through such accidents themselves and have overcome them? Maybe volunteering virtually with/for others who have or are in this situation (she should volunteer). One thing I am going to suggest is this, which may encourage her and are real life stories.
posted by jbean at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2014

Keep being a friend. People who are in chronic pain can be hard to be friends with, and your interests may diverge; be a friend as long as you can. Ask. Hey, I feel really rotten about what happened to you, but I don't want to say stupid stuff to you. Tell me if I'm out of line or if your feelings are too raw. Go visit with a movie, or pie, or whatever. Find out of short visits work better. Offer to do helpful stuff like drive her to the doctor, pick up groceries, etc., but only if you will really be able to do those things.

I have a friend who is incapacitated by a random illness. She said she appreciates the occasional 'hey, this sucks and I get pissed off at the world on your behalf' but only occasional.
posted by theora55 at 2:29 PM on April 25, 2014

one thing helped me to deal with my limited mobility and chronic pain was to be creative. encouraging that is good. also, w/r/t the pain thing, the best suggestion that I received was marijuana. I switched from opiods to weed for pain control, and it pretty much saved my life.

your friend is essentially going to be a bad-ass, if she isn't already. the best gift you can give her is cheering her on as she discovers her bad-ass self. If she's in pain and depressed, that's a stage to discovering her tougher self, and perhaps you can encourage her to get there.

also, I appreciate morbid humor. I had one friend who would say things like, "what's the worst you can happen? you're already in a wheelchair" and "if you lived in the 19th century, you'd be dead." I mean, I found it hilarious, but YMMV, so proceed with care.
posted by angrycat at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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