‘Through rose tinted spectacles’, by monstercoach
This time I was going to give the hard news. That was my agenda. He had been in out of hospital a few times, his cognitive and physical status fluctuating due to the underlying condition. There was no cure. So in they came to the clinic, husband and wife, beyond middle age but not yet elderly. I got into it quickly,
“So… the last few months, I’ve noticed, you’ve got weaker every time you’ve come in. The complications have been more difficult to get over. At home… you’re not getting out…”
He said nothing. Perhaps today was an off day, mentally.
“So we need to think about the future. What should we do next time you come in. And if you get really ill, an infection, or…”
His wife shifted in her seat.
I went on, using words I have used many times. About how there was only so much we could do if he deteriorated. About the possibility of spending his last days or weeks at home, if it looked like he might be dying. About things that might happen suddenly. Uncomfortable considerations, but necessary.
“But doctor, he’s doing OK really, isn’t he?”
What? Where was this coming from? I moved by gaze from the patient to his wife. She was winking at me. A classic, conspiratorial wink. No, I would not have this….
“Well, it’s important that we are very clear, and honest, about what we have seen over the last year. It’s been a downward trend…”
“But at the moment, he’s stable isn’t he? He’s alright.”
I looked at him. He was looking at her.
“Don’t want to hear any bad news, do we?” she said.
“No. No. There’s enough to worry about in the world…” he replied, laughing quietly.
I paused. The signals were clear. This was not the time to push it. So I changed tack.
“Well,” I continued, “To be fair, you haven’t been in for two months now. The new drug we gave you for the confusion seems to be working. And…” I turned to the computer, “Looking at your numbers, your blood tests, there hasn’t been much change there either. So yes, pretty stable!” I was getting into it now. The conspiracy of optimism. He needed this – this gentle fiction.
We wrapped things up. I had achieved nothing definite in terms of anticipating how to handle future crises. We would have to see how it went. So much for my agenda. Perhaps that was the problem, developing an agenda in isolation.
“Back in two months then?” I suggested, “Unless you have to come in earlier.”
They walked out. There would be another time. Or, more likely, the hard truths although fully understood, would remain unsaid until the very end.
Collected posts, Vol IV – click on image to view in Amazon