What Not to Tell the Patient

Diagnosing a serious medical condition that requires serious medical attention is an extremely stressful experience. There are many things to navigate, and as a friend, family member, or even casual acquaintance of someone going through a difficult health situation, you want to ease the burden, not make it worse. This is what you should and should not tell the sick.

Don’t give medical advice

One of the biggest complaints of people who are battling cancer or any other life-threatening disease is that many of the people around them are suddenly becoming doctors. On Reddit, u / MondoCalrissian77 posted to r / LifeProTips to say cut this shit:

You might think that it shouldn’t be talked about, but when my mother got cancer, a group of relatives and friends try to give advice that is completely false or only partially correct, since they never did any real research and only heard part of the advice. Entrust this to the professionals and try to be close to them.

Unless you are a doctor, your medical understanding of what this person needs is likely limited. Even if you have had a similar illness, you still cannot be given medical advice unless asked to do so. And this advice, gleaned from an article you read four years ago, is unlikely to shed new light on the situation, and repeating it is just annoying.

Don’t try to understand why

When we find out that someone has a serious illness, we may feel an urge to find out how they got sick . Is it genetic? Concluded somewhere abroad? Did they eat the wrong thing? Actually, what did they do to draw this tragedy into their lives? You may not consciously think that you are blaming someone for being sick, but we often look for ways to understand what someone has done, in order to imagine that there is a way to avoid this happening to us.

Writer Stephen Thrasher wrote an article for the Guardian in 2016 about the tendency to educate cancer patients about miraculous drugs, which he often witnessed when his sister got cancer. People wanted his sister to take care of herself the way they saw fit, and if she didn’t, it meant she was to blame if she didn’t get better:

Don’t tell the sick or injured person what to do, because this is a cunning and harmful way to deal with your fear of death. You say, tsk-tsk – I would not let this happen to me the way you allowed it to happen to you.

They don’t need your advice or your curiosity – and they definitely don’t need your judgment.

Don’t tell people to “think positively”

In 2010, Barbara Ehrenreich published her book The Bright Side: How The Relentless Advancement of Positive Thinking Undermined America . It talks about her own experiences with cancer and how people are promoting the idea that positive thinking will miraculously make them healthy. The book delves deeply into the history and science (which, in fact, does not exist ) underlying this concept, and how it is often used – like unsolicited medical advice – for shame.

There is wisdom in enjoying life at the moment as much as possible, not to roll out a spiral when it gets dark. But it’s also not for you to remind your loved one to “keep a positive attitude.” Sometimes people need space to speak up, to talk about how things might get worse, to express their fears. Don’t make them think they need to be optimistic in order to heal themselves.

Fortunately, the alternative to optimism is not pessimism, which can also be delusional. What we need here is some realism or a simple admission that, to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “all sorts of things happen”, including sometimes very, very bad things … Some will call this negative thinking, but the technical term is sobriety.

An offer to do certain things

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what someone needs, and we say by default, “Let me know if I can do anything.” Be aware that someone may be too sick or tired to even understand what they need. They may also be afraid to burden you.

Instead, offer specifics. If you’re going to be in their area, ask if you can leave dinner, or take the dog for a walk, or take their kids to the park. And if you don’t get an answer, give them some time and then try again. The support can be overwhelming. If you are close to someone, just come. You can clean up their kitchen and leave it as it is – there is no more grandiose gesture than taking care of everyday things.

Tell them you love them

This seems like it should be self-evident, but perhaps the simplest thing you can do for someone close to you who is sick is to tell them how much they mean to you. Writer Bruce Feiler told NPR in 2011 that when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, he was very grateful to people who avoided platitudes or clichés and expressed their sincere feelings:

“The most important, maybe even the simplest, is just … simple, direct expression of emotion,” he says. “‘I love you. I am sorry that you are going through this. I am reaching out to you.”

Feiler says such statements can be critical.

“These simple gestures really resonate so deeply in the soul of the patient because they create this human connection,” he says. “Just talk about how you feel about this person, simply and directly. And it might be the best medicine you can give to someone. “

Finally, always remember that one of the best options is to just listen.


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