Sunday, January 18, 2015

Stories heal

When a patient is given a diagnosis, they are being led towards a mental path that will actually help influence their medical outcome. Ok, those words sound really technical, some are a little big and not everyone will understand things clearly, which is actually what happens with so many doctors in the first place.

Using simpler language, here goes: what you tell a patient about their health will influence their health and how well they heal. Percentages, statistics and numbers might make a doctor sound like they know what they’re talking about, the reality is that even the most educated, assertive and talented doctor in the world is giving an educated guess when it comes to a diagnosis.

That said, I’ve heard plenty of doctors adopt an attitude typical to doctors, where basically they give their diagnosis and emit a verdict to the patient. You have X or Y months to live. I’ve heard this in many cases and in my father’s case, he was given a prognosis of 6 months, give or take a week. He shattered that diagnosis by an extra half decade.

That’s because my father didn’t bite into the story, he wanted to write his own story… though part of me does ask the question, what would it have been like if he’d been given a different story?

When you’re dealing with patients of any type, how you give them information is even more important than what information you give them. Desensitization and the fact that healthcare has become a business (especially in the Western hemisphere) brings all sorts of problems. From skipping steps to see more patients to make more money, to being completely tactless and just spitting stats to the patient and leaving it completely in their court to deal with.

However, I know many doctors who are empathic, who suffer with their patients, who still hurt every time they lose one and who are incapable of dropping information without doing their best to equip the patient with the tools to best deal with said information. I’m not talking about sugarcoating things and telling them everything will be all right… it’s giving hope a chance and telling a patient, regardless of how dire the prognosis that there is always hope… not because stats say so, but because weird things happen every single day. Wonderful, odd, incredible things.

The message I often see is prepare to die and I’d like to challenge that stance. What would happen if instead, each patient was dared to live. That’s a very different message even though the outcome may be the same at the end of the timeline.

Patients have the right to the best care, to consideration and above all else, to hope. Regardless of your creed, or lack of one, weird things happen every single day, and not allowing a patient to believe they can be the exception, that they can be an oddity and different is a disservice to the most powerful trait that defines us as humans.

Here’s to life and hope, they are ours to enjoy for as long as we can. 

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