When a friend is sick we instinctively want to fix it, let them know we love them, or at least make them feel better for a time. Often, we don't know how.
Speaking from the other side of that equation, I can offer some insight. I have Crohn's disease and in the last few years have had surgeries because of complications of the disease. Not much fun. I don't recommend it. But, on the other hand, the alternative (death!) was no more attractive. So, there you are.
For whatever reason, I always felt I should keep my good friends in the loop when I land in the hospital. I don't go in for Facebook announcements, but I do communicate with friends to let them know why I may not respond to calls or emails. What I can tell you is that there are a variety of reactions. All mean well, but some make me feel more cared for, more loved, than others.
On the side of the angels are the people who are consistently just THERE. Calling or writing emails every few days just to touch base and let me know I am not forgotten. The other day one of my friends sent me some information about a nutritionist. She knew I was looking for someone who had experience with my disease. I was so touched that she listened to me and my rambling s about my many concerns about my illness, and that she took the time to research this option.
Another friend sends me a funny video at least once a week. She gives me a laugh and I know she has been thinking of me. My pal who moved away a while back has been calling more so we can chat. I don't think she has any idea how therapeutic her calls are. We have at least one good belly laugh on each call. Even if it hurts when I laugh, I am the better for it. And the other day a friend and I went for pedicures and chatted through--another shot of good psychological medicine.
Being home bound for quite a while, it was great when friends could visit, even for a short time. Don't underestimate the healing power of an in-person hug, a shared laugh, or just mundane daily news of your life.
A couple of friends sent over meals for me and my husband after my surgery--always appreciated. After one unexpected surgery, one friend organized a group of my friends to cook meals for a week after I came home. An incredible help.
For some busy friends, I know that the occasional call or email is all they can manage, and that's ok too. Just hearing from them lets me know I am in their thoughts.
People do what they can. When a friend is sick or recovering from surgery or a hospital stay, try to listen to their concerns for hints about what you can do to help. It may be hard for them to ask for what they need, or even know what that may be. Like many situations, the best way to help is just by showing up.