By HANS DUVEFELT
Today a patient told me a cancer doctor had told her husband that he only had a year to live. She was angry, because she felt that statement robbed her husband of hope and she knew well enough that doctors don’t always know a patient’s prognosis in such detail.
“Would you want to know if you only had a year to live”, she asked me.
I thought for a moment and then answered that I probably would want to know. I explained that I would want to make decisions and provisions because I live alone and am responsible for my animals. As I told her, I am well aware that if I dropped dead right now, things would be pretty chaotic for a while.
Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post titled Be the Doctor Each Patient Needs. In it I presumptuously coined the phrase I later put right on top of the sidebar of this blog:
Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.
I still believe we need to be incredibly sensitive to all the verbal and nonverbal clues our patients give us about what they need. In my 2018 post, I used the analogy of being like a chameleon. That’s not the same as being dishonest. It is a matter of knowing that your education and title give you an authority, an opportunity and an obligation to use your position of trust in your patient’s life to say things they need to hear in order to carry on or perhaps to take the first step in a new direction. We all wear the mantle of a superhero in a sense, and we can use this