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Handbook for Mortals : Talking With Your Doctor

Situations: "I don't want to know"

Patient: If it's bad news, I don't want to hear it. I especially don't want to know if my heart was worse on that last test. Tell my daughter, not me.
Doctor: Okay. I'm giving you this medicine to treat your pain. Take two pills three times every day, and come back in two weeks.

The "don't ask/don't tell" policy is not much in vogue in health care these days because it seems too paternalistic for our modern society. Patients are encouraged to take control of their care, and doctors are exhorted to tell their patients "the truth." But some people really don't want to hear their diagnoses, or at least not just yet. Often people guess what is going on but don't want to hear the words or talk about their illness in specific terms. Still others don't want to be told for other personal or cultural reasons. While this form of communication is not for everyone, it can be very important for some. If you are one of those folks, you might focus on the effects that your illness is having on your life (too tired to go shopping, lack of appetite, etc.) without discussing the effects of the illness on your organs and body chemistry. You can ask your doctor what you can expect in terms of daily life without listening to a recitation of medical facts. And you can certainly change your mind and ask questions later if you want to talk about specifics.

You should know that most doctors, and many family members, are uncomfortable with this method of living with illness, even if you prefer it. You may have to insist that this is the way you want to handle things. You may have to insist more than once. If this is your choice, however, it is likely to have been your choice before. Family, friends, and doctors may be uncomfortable, but not totally surprised. Your choice, then, may be a source of puzzlement without being a source of friction.

To learn more about the book "Handbook for Mortals" click here.