Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Moment - 3 key tips for dealing with a serious medical diagnosis

“I’m afraid the news isn’t what we hoped for.”

“We have to begin treatment immediately.”

“The test results showed signs of greater spread than we expected.”

“I’m sorry to inform you that your husband/wife/partner was in an accident.”

“No! This must be a mistake! Please God. Noooooooo.”

Sudden trauma or a terrible diagnosis slams into us like a stray bullet. It penetrates our core in an instant, in the space between two breaths. The before breath was taken in the clear air of our old life. The breath after is drawn in a nightmare world where everything is suddenly frightening and dark.

In the emergency room, in the specialist’s office, in the immediate aftermath of the sudden intrusion of illness or trauma into our life, we are undone, yet we have to continue on and often make medical decisions that even under benign circumstances are difficult. Doctors who may have been strangers a moment ago flood us with information in a language we don’t truly understand and press us to make dire choices when we are still struggling just to keep breathing.

How can we help ourselves and our partner make good choices in this moment when we are emotionally unraveled, yet need to be attentive and wise?

Here are some suggestions:
  1. Stop. Step off the medical roller coaster for 10 minutes (or 5 or 3 if that’s all you have) and connect with each other. Touch and breathe together. That moment of contact can give you and your partner strength and room to think.
  2. Call a trusted friend and have her join you. She may be in a space to understand, remember, and ask important questions.
  3. Ask questions. Among the most important ones are:
  • What exactly is wrong?
  • How much time can we take to think about it?
  • What will happen if we delay?
  • What are you recommending and why?
  • What alternatives are there (for tests and interventions)?
  • Can you explain that in more simple terms?
  • (And one of my favorites) If I were you sister, what would you recommend?
Remember, when confronted with bad news, that medical science does not have all the answers and that there can be options to pursue outside of the doctor’s sphere of knowledge. And that where there's life, there is hope.

1 comment:

Dave deBronkart said...

Barbara, this is just a wonderful posting. I can already tell that you have a very strong knack for this. Go for it, and thanks again.