After a rather long day with one particularly difficult case, I remember this status update from a fellow doctor on her Facebook timeline:
The worst part of my job: Having to break bad news to a patient. How do I tell a jolly, friendly patient that his life is about to change and cancer is about to turn his world upside down? How do you objectively, professionally explain findings in an honest way without being brutal, when the truth, in itself, is brutal? How can you not break someone’s heart when his body is breaking him from the inside out? Worst part of the job…
to which the following reply was offered:
Our doctor said: your mother has glioblastoma multiforme. Then she explained the diagnosis in very simple terms. The best part of the talk was this: We will MANAGE this the way we manage regular diseases like diabetes. The word MANAGE and the use of WE meant the world for a family whose life changed in a second.She had to give us a timeline but her words were careful. She DID not say how much time my mom had. She just said that her best case lived for a certain number of years.
True, as doctors we may not always have the answers, and even if we do, the dilemma is in how do we go about it. And this is where the art of medicine comes into play, something that I hope to develop more as I realize that sometimes all that is left of a person is hope, and we as doctors, and more so as fellow human beings at that, should understand this fundamental matter.