One time I was in the recovery area after surgery. I didn’t have cancer, I had cancer’s next door neighbor. I was recovering after my surgery to remove the abnormal cells. The area was open so the nurses could keep an eye on everybody.
I had not had any mind altering drugs before my surgery. I didn’t want any Valium or anything like it. I didn’t want Versed either. That is an amnesia drug. My theory was that I have enough problems as is with reality because of my bipolar condition. I don’t need drugs messing with it too.
It is rare to refuse these medicines. If you have a surgery you’ll be asked what you are allergic to, and other than that it is free and clear for them to give you whatever they want. They want you calm and compliant. They don’t want you freaking out. So they commonly give these kinds of drugs.
Because I’d refused them, I was awake and alert while there. I didn’t hurt, and I was a little bored. There were others there in various states of recovering from anesthesia. There were cloth curtains separating the patients but no walls.
I overheard something two beds over. A doctor came up to the patient and told him that it was a lot worse than they thought. His cancer was a lot more invasive. They couldn’t get it all. He was going to have to have chemotherapy, and even that might not work.
This was heavy stuff. This was private. This was serious. This wasn’t something that should be said to someone in an open place, and by himself, and drugged up.
He had nobody with him. In the recovery area you are alone. He was most likely still not alert because of the standard drugs that are given. Thus he wasn’t really in a state to properly process this information. It is doubtful that he would remember it. Sure, they would soften the blow, but they might soften it so much that the words wouldn’t even be solid enough to stick. The words might slip right through and fall on the floor.
I felt for him. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I always do these days when I don’t know what to do. I prayed. I prayed for peace and healing. I prayed that he had strength to hear these words. I prayed that the peace of God would descend on him and envelope him.
And I was angry. I was angry at the insensitivity of the doctor. I was wondering why he had to tell the patient then, there, in that way. He could have waited. He should have waited. That is some heavy stuff to tell to someone. What a way to punch somebody when he is down.
So I prayed some more. I couldn’t get up – I was attached to IVs. I was also naked under that flimsy hospital gown. I needed to lay still because I was being checked for bleeding. My surgery couldn’t have stitches. So I was stuck there.
But even if I could get up, what would I do? This is a stranger. What would I say? I can’t make it go away. I couldn’t heal him. Maybe I could let him know he wasn’t alone. Maybe I could tell the doctor that he needs to try being human for a change, try to see things from the patient’s perspective.
This was three years ago. I don’t know the resolution. I don’t know if the patient is still alive. I don’t know if the doctor has changed his ways. But I write this anyway, hoping that my words reach out across time and space to speak to some other doctor. Consider your words, and when, and how.
There may be no good way to tell someone that they are far more sick than you thought. You may be uncomfortable with your own mortality, so it may be hard for you to tell someone else about theirs. Breathe into it. Pray into it. Feel it out. Get counseling. Get training. You’ll be doing everybody a favor – including yourself.
Body mind and spirit aren’t separate.
Some doctors get into medicine because they like to know how the human body works. They want to fix things. But bodies aren’t like cars. You can make all the systems work, but the person is part of it too. She has to be a part of the healing. She has to change her ways, otherwise she will end up sick again. She has to want to get well, and work towards it. The doctor is part of this process and can help inspire the patient or can crush her spirit. What is said, and how, and when, is critical. Yes, doctors are human too, and make mistakes. That is normal. We make mistakes and we learn from them.
Consider the idea of making the patient have to come back to your office to find out bad news from test results. Sure, you don’t want to tell him over the phone. But making him take time off from work, drive downtown to your office in bad traffic, have to find a parking space – and then have to drive back in bad traffic, back to work, after hearing that he is very sick – isn’t that great. It is very hard on the patient. It makes a bad situation worse.
Perhaps you could come to him, and meet him? Whatever happened to house calls? Whatever happened to the doctor having time to talk with the patient, and having time to listen?
We need to rethink the whole thing. We need to focus on prevention and not treatment of symptoms. We need to focus on keeping people healthy rather than dealing with them being sick. We need to teach healthy living as a lifestyle instead of a quirk.