Body and Soul

A colleague has a son who’s a little younger than me. Married, two small children. He had a numbness at the top of his spine. Went to the hospital and was told that it’s either terminal cancer or a stress-induced inflammation. And to come back in 3 months when they hope to be able to know for sure.

Where I come from, doctors would never say something like this. They’d conceal a terminal diagnosis from a patient until the very last because a terrified patient is less likely to have the energy to battle the disease. In the next three months, my colleague’s son will eat his heart out, worrying about whether he’s dying. His wife and children will suffer. The 70-year-old mom with a heart condition will suffer. Why do something like this? What’s the medical rationale for terrorizing a person like this? Whatever the man’s life expectancy is, these doctors have needlessly robbed him of 3 months of normal life.

And if it turns out to be nothing, what are the chances this guy will go get checked out in the future if he feels ill?

This all happens because the medical establishment in this country doesn’t accept that there’s any connection between psychological and physical sides of human beings. As if the body and the soul (psyche, nervous system, whatever you call it) living in it never communicated.

10 thoughts on “Body and Soul

  1. In the 1950s (and earlier, I think) terminal diagnoses were generally concealed from patients. Some patients’ rights groups lobbied successfully to have this practice changed.


  2. “a terrified patient is less likely to have the energy to battle the disease”

    I understand the point, but on the other hand ‘battle’ is not a good metaphor for health… (especially where it turns into ‘war’ at the drop of a hat).
    Metaphors matter and I’m a great believer in finding better metaphors for maintaining or regaining health than battles or wars going on inside the patient’s body.
    I prefer metaphors built around ideas like ‘garden’ (weeds have crept into the garden and need to be removed) or roads (the pavement has ended and it there might be a rough road before returning to a nice smooth highway).


  3. “conceal a terminal diagnosis from a patient until the very last ”

    On the other hand they might conceal it by simply not talking at all (I’ve heard of such cases in Poland and I doubt that the Ukrainian system is any more patient friendly….).

    patient: what is it, doctor? what do the tests say?
    doctor: (leaves the room in silence)

    All things considered I’m for more than less honesty (I generally prefer a harsh truth to a comforting lie) but certain diagnoses absolutely need to come with counseling from skilled therapists (which are probably scarce on the ground) as the mental health is vital (as you wrote).

    But a bean counter system that believes in silver bullets can’t take that into account….


    1. They are not even sure! He might be completely healthy. We can debate whether it’s necessary to give the actual diagnosis but what’s the need to reveal the intricacies of the entire diagnostic process? A list of everything that might be wrong can get anybody suicidal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “They are not even sure! ”

        That’s actually the lede here. US medicine so incompetent that it takes three months to find out something that important! What the actual fuck are the doctors smoking? Lazy ass stupid pills?

        To say “This might be pretty minor or a DREAD DISEASE!!!!!!! but we can’t be arsed to let you know before three months are past”

        Crap care. Crappy healthcare. Terrible medical (and human) practice. Literally doing nothing would be far preferable.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Where I live, medical professionals are trained to communicate incomplete diagnoses to people in such a way that the patient returns to the medical facility for further testing without the patient being scared to death. It really isn’t that hard.


  5. There may be part of the story missing here. Did the doctor do some test work (like a sonogram, which could suggest a mass on the upper spine), or did a neurological exam show other signs like obvious weakness in the patient’s arms?

    Obviously I don’t know the depth of examination that occurred with this patient, but it isn’t good medical practice to scare a patient to death with a “could be FATAL!” possible diagnosis, unless the doctor has more information to go on than, “Hey, Doc, I got a numb feeling across here.”


    1. Yes, they did an MRI, they had a neurologist come in. The neurologist thinks it’s inflammation and the oncologist thinks it’s cancer. Why they can’t hold their debate between the two of them is a mystery.


  6. My Dad had a related experience recently– a “thing” showed up on a scan of his lungs. Doc was like: “Well, that looks like lung cancer! Let’s do a biopsy!” Dad insisted on a second scan to confirm that it wasn’t just an imaging artifact. Wasn’t there the second time. Biopsy cancelled.

    Fortunately, he’s already made peace with death (he’s had so many near-death experiences it was a necessary adaptation: he’s very much in the camp of “God will take me when He’s ready, and there’s nothing I can do about it either way.”), and was not upset by the whole thing, except insofar as he’s wasted money on scans.

    Liked by 1 person

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