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Handbook for Mortals : Talking With Your Doctor

When you are hesitant to ask questions

Some people are shy about asking "too many" questions. Many people are hesitant about asking some questions, but not others. Usually, your doctor has heard your questions before, no matter how silly, embarrassing, or far-fetched they sound to you. At some point, however, you may want to ask a question, but just can't get the words out. At times like those, try the "surrogate approach." Have your spouse, parent, child, or whoever is close to you ask about the information while you look on tolerantly. This may seem rather devious, but works well if you are uncomfortable with any sign of irritation, real or perceived, from your doctor. Such irritation is often easier for someone else to bear if they are very protective of you or don't feel as dependent on the doctor. Furthermore, your family member may welcome the opportunity to have his or her own questions answered.

The surrogate approach works just as well for gathering other medical information. While you may be just as interested in the details of your care, you may be expending most or all of your energy on getting treatments or managing day-to-day activities. Someone else may have more energy for gathering information, asking questions, keeping track of answers and other details, and running down hard-to-find people. They may also be less troubled or discouraged by brusque replies, impatience, or evasions.

Adapted from The Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness, by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold, copyright by Joanne Lynn, used by permission of Oxford University Press.