It's difficult not to be shocked when you first see her - that's if you recognise her at all.
My gaze slid past her as I searched and all I registered about the patient on the bed was how small and bald he was, and how very red and beaky was his nose.
Then it dawned on me that that was my friend.
Luckily for me her eyes were closed and I was able to compose myself before announcing my arrival. I felt such a fool. But what was I expecting?
Whenever I had seen her in the past, she was always poised, always in control. I only got to see what she wanted me to see. I always had to tell her when I was coming over to visit and she would always be ready.
It's one of the things I admired - being a person who is so often totally out of control and desperately disorganised.
Now, lying in the bed more incapacitated than ever and totally at the mercy of the system, I had to adjust my expectations fast, think on my feet and realise that the only thing I could do was to treat her as normal with no idea what her normal was any more.
I have only ever known my friend with cancer. She had it before I knew her and when I first met her she didn't tell me. It was 18 months before I found out and I suspect if she had been able to hide it for longer she would have done.
Here, for the first time in ages, at the stables where we all met she wasn't the cancer victim - rather like the rest of us, just a woman who was proverbially girding her loins to mount up and ride a horse once again.
It was the golden Autumn of 2012 and Hoof, the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) Olympic and Paralympic legacy campaign, had just launched its "Take Back the Reins" programme to encourage people like us to get back in the saddle (or driving seat or whatever was the case).
There were six of us, a couple like me who had ridden as kids but had lapsed due to life taking us in different directions and those who had started but not got any further. Whatever the reason we turned up at Newton Hall Equestrian Centre in Suffolk because we wanted to ride again. Perhaps we were trying to prove we could do it before it was too late. Perhaps we were indulging ourselves. We got more than we bargained.
What we found was that for a couple of hours a week we didn't just learn to ride - we found we could time travel - we could be who we once were: kids again with no thought other than to ride. Horse-mad teenagers but with possibly less conviction that we were invincible and a greater appreciation for the art of falling off.
When you ride a horse you can only really think about what you are doing, you cannot go off into a daydream for the effort to stay on, especially initially, takes up every living second. When you ride you have to be in the here and now. No other thought can intrude; not if you wish to do it right and we all so desperately wanted that. So, goodbye money worries, goodbye work concerns, goodbye demanding family, goodbye cancer!
To be honest those first few weeks were terrifying as we all got to grips with it. My friend was a revelation she was born to it - she made it seem so easy. While I struggled to sit deeper and go with my horse, to keep my hands still and and to smooth my transitions, she tackled far more advanced fair. It was if this was what she was meant to do, quite literally why she had been born.
Just the other day, when she was clearly very poorly (on her last ride as it turned out) she was playing about with leg yields while I still struggled to ask for a clean transition to canter. But here's the thing about my friend, even though clearly she was far more advanced than I, she never lorded it over me or indeed any of the others, never became impatient with us in the lessons when she had to sit and wait for us to get it together, never got cross when I lost it and refused to do more than walk or trot, she was so genuinely pleased to see me progress.
To be honest we all were pleased when someone suddenly got it but without her I don't think we would have been confident enough to say so out loud to each other. She encouraged us to share our triumphs and to make little of our failures in the knowledge that next week we'd be better. She exuded positivity in the best way imaginable and it was wonderful.
So there I am in the hospital, beeps and bleeps and coughs and snorts and does she even know who I am? For having been knocked back by cancer again and again, she is here in the Stroke Unit, her left side totally gone and the prognosis is shit.
So I say to her: "What a bugger!" and could she: "Please help me because I am so very stupid - do you know who I am?"
I get a thumbs up.
So I blather away about Hamlet her favourite equine and how he's just dropped a rider and playing up quite dreadfully. How he's obviously feeling a lot better now he's back in work. And would she like a picture and I'll do that tomorrow.
The magazines I've bought are totally useless, she can't read them and the damage done by the stroke is far more than I imagined. The only other thing I have in my handbag is a small bottle Cow Shed's Cow Pat - which thankfully doesn't smell of cow pat. I ask if she'd like me to massage her feet I think I get a consent and so I massage her feet and they go from cold to warm, from dry to smooth. I think she likes it but it's difficult to tell.
I say I'll have to go but I'll be back with some photos of the horses and I do go back every other day during half term week bringing photographs and massaging her hands and feet and I chatter and as the days progress she gets better and starts to make her presence felt in no uncertain terms. I begin to understand her new way of talking and negotiate with doctors and nurses to get what she wants.
And then I am away for a week with work and family and she 's there at the back of my mind and the next thing I know she's in St Elizabeths Hospice. I visit and it's not good. She knows me and not knows me but she looks a hundred times better.
But I am uncertain.
And then I go back on Saturday morning and there she is - my friend. She's talking so much better and she seems so alive, positively buzzing. I tell her about the stables and the horses and how I am worried about going to Warwickshire for the British Horse Society Riding Schools Competition. I can just about get half marks for the ridden test, I can jump a clear round but not desperately elegantly and as far as knowing any horse lore forget it. I say I can't go; it is a ridiculous indulgence. She says do it! Have fun! Don't worry so much and that she can help me learn for the test. She makes me feel good about it all and then she asks me to take her to her niece's wedding at the end of May. We'll buy hats and look glamorous and we're going to have a spa day and paint our nails.
She has beautiful hands. Long tapering fingers. Strong hands. Hands that can talk to a horse and hold him in check, that give him confidence, that can make him dance.
She says I'll have to be with her at the wedding reception: "And we shall talk horses..."
I leave and feel so happy promising to be back on Monday morning.
"I'll get a movie of Hamlet and all the horses, would you like that?" I say. She gives me the thumbs up and although I am at the stables on Sunday morning I never get round to it. I'm helping with the course building for the jumping competition, waiting for an opportunity, I have my eldest wanting to go home. I'm late and I'm disorganised as usual. I console myself with the thought that I can always drop by the stables in the morning after getting the boys to school and take the photographs and movies then. It will probably be better.
That evening I get a call.
At some point in the afternoon of March 1 2015 my friend dies.
"....and we shall talk horses..." echoes in my mind.