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A diagnosis spurs a commitment

by Isabel Fawcett

Every day hundreds of Americans are diagnosed with serious medical conditions some of which have no known cure. Delivering and/or receiving serious medical diagnoses has to be a "no-win" situation. A hard-hitting medical diagnosis with long-term implications beckons caregivers, doctors, hospital administrators and others to take pause.

My mother did not always need a caregiver. At one time my limited role was to pick her up and drop her off to doctors appointments. I did so voluntarily as a reminder that she need not feel alone or nervous about any of her doctor's visits. At this point she was a retired widower.

On occasion, I would accompany her as far as the doctor's office waiting area where I would read and people-watch until she was cleared to check out of the medical office. Life was pretty simple back then. She enjoyed her friends, volunteering, social events and the very best that life had to offer.

Serious Diagnosis Changes Everything

The one time I chose not to be her ride or moral support for a routine medical screening is the one time I regret not having been there for her. It was the day she was coldly informed by a radiologist of her breast cancer diagnosis. The saddest thing for me is that it wasn't until the end of my workday that she shared her shocking news with me.

Mom was entirely calm on the outside as she shared her day and devastating news. I listened in shock and mounting anger at her detailed recounting of that traumatic day.

I will always recall becoming livid at the point when she apologetically tried to explain that she "must have been nervous, or something," because at one point, the radiologist asked her: "Did you hear what I just told you? You have breast cancer. It is serious--not a laughing matter."

I asked why she thought the radiologist might have made such an insensitive remark. She repeated that she "thought she must have giggled, or laughed when first told that she had breast cancer, but, she said, "I just didn't know what else to say so I may have laughed a little?" The radiologist apparently became impatient when she wanted to talk over her options with her daughter before scheduling herself for surgery and pre-surgical lab tests.

Bedside Manners Cordially Invited

I temporarily stopped listening to the story to place a call. I called the Radiology Department asking to speak to the radiologist. Let's just say I nicknamed him "Infamous." I was told that the radiologist was "not available at this moment." I demanded to speak to the assistant radiologist (i.e., physician) who had also communicated with my mother during the diagnostic circus.

When the other radiologist took my call, I explained the reason for my call, gave the patient's name, medical diagnosis, date of service, and let the radiologist have a piece of my mind. I told the radiologist a thing or two about common sense, some physicians' lacking bedside manners, physicians' need to not be patronizing and condescending to patients and asked the radiologist at the other end of the telephone line, "What part of delivering a hard-hitting breast cancer diagnosis did your fellow radiologist not understand? Was it that there is a devastated, thinking, feeling human being on the receiving end of a medical diagnosis, perhaps? Would he have been thrilled to have been on the receiving end of a serious medical diagnosis and ready to schedule himself for surgery all in the same breath?"

Caregiving and Patient Advocacy

I never got an answer. I perceived silent acknowledgement from the radiologist who took my call. Response notwithstanding, I provided much-needed customer feedback to a physician in that Radiology Department. That would be the very last time I allowed Mom to go to any doctor's appointments alone. God forbid that any patient should be without a committed patient care advocate in the health care system.

Thanks to lacking sensitivity of "Infamous" radiologist, caregiving and patient advocacy remain inseparable as far as I am concerned.