Friday, August 9, 2013

Why Doctors Lie

The oncologist shook his head as he walked out of the room.  He still held a paper towel in his hand which he used to wipe the last remnants of soap and water.  He tossed it into the trash, and looked in my direction.  We talked for a few moments.  The cancer was more widespread than originally thought.  The surgery exposed a belly full of metastases.  The options for chemotherapy were thin.

I entered the room with a heavy heart.  I sat next to the bed, and listened before beginning with a litany of questions.  The post operative pain was well controlled.  The patient had been informed of the diagnosis but still felt lost.  Her family watched hopefully, and measured each word as it left my mouth.  Their chins moved up and down frantically when I was hopeful, and back and forth soberly when I was not.

Before long, the conversation turned to prognosis.  The patient bowed her head and prepared for the answer. Every ounce of my soul longed to tell her that everything would be okay.  If only human will were the issue, I would explain how we could eradicate each cancer cell one by one.

And in that moment, I chocked on the truth.  I wished to give her the gift of hope, even though I knew it was false. It was not because it was easier, not because I wanted to intentionally deceive. In reality, I couldn't face my own frailty as a physician.  So many times we ultimately lose to diseases that are far too advanced or ingenious for our rudimentary knowledge.

I discussed the prognosis truthfully.  After answering their queries, I left quietly.

But I understand why physicians lie, why they embellish.

Even harder than telling someone they are going to die,

is seeing oneself without distortion in the reflection of the mirror.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my former doctor only sees his handsome self, married to another doctor, his 2.4 kids, salary, boat, etc. He no longer sees us.

Anonymous said...

It is easier to deal with the truth once than to imagine one thousand lies.