An excerpt from In Sickness as in Health: Helping Couples Cope with the Complexities of Illness
by Barbara Kivowitz (Author), Roanne Weisman (Author)
Roundtree Press (January 15, 2013)
This is taken from Kevin Pho, MD blog Look for a Doctor Who Understands Healing
You are not a statistic
Ironically, the surgeon who repaired her heart also left her heartbroken. While he and the neurologists may have considered it their obligation to present what they envisioned as the truth, they assumed too much. Statistical medical probabilities based on aggregate data don’t necessarily apply to an individual, who is unique and has her own potentially miraculous capacities. Statistics can’t take into account one patient’s willpower, another’s deep faith, and another’s reliance on non-conventional healing. They also don’t take into account the enormous value of a loving partner. Yet these factors, along with many others, can sometimes overturn the sentence of even a severe diagnosis.
With the initial shock of diagnosis, the injured person and the partner are extremely vulnerable. They feel as if they have been deposited on an alien planet where the laws of familiar physics no longer apply and the air is toxic. The suddenness of the change means there is a lag time between the new reality and their ability to function within it. All their normal coping skills remain on planet Earth even as they have to immediately learn to breathe in this new atmosphere. In this unhinged state, they naturally seek a powerful guide, and typically grant omniscient status to the doctor.
The doctor becomes the orientation point in this new and frightening universe. Her words signify more than educated opinion; they become oracular. It is as if she can foresee their future and has the potential to return them to safe ground. Linda’s heart surgeon’s parting words were, “Sorry you stroked, but heart-wise you’re fine.” He was satisfied that he had done his job. Anything outside the surgical realm was not his responsibility.
“I felt that he had dismissed me as a whole person,” said Linda. “I was just another surgical case to him.” Had Linda not possessed some abiding source of internal steel, the surgeon’s words might have become her living epitaph.
It is not unusual, in the aftershock of diagnosis, for patients and their partners to either submit silently to the sentence or pummel the doctor with questions as they desperately seek loopholes through which they can squeeze their fading hopes. The doctor remains the focal point. Her words at this delicate moment — where the mind is ricocheting from fear to fear, and the body and soul’s natural healing abilities need encouragement — can have fateful impact.