Your Doctor May Not Have Seen Those Movies

As I emerged from the fog after my Friday morning colonoscopy, the doctor was telling my wife Carol that he saw some things he “did not like the look of”.  It would take a few days to get the biopsy results.  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend!

Early the following week, I received a call at work and the woman on the line said “Doctor would like to speak with you. Can you hold for a moment?”  

I immediately thought: This has to be good news!  We’ve all seen that movie, right?  If it’s bad news, the nurse says, “Doctor would like to discuss your test results.  Can you come to his office?”

Well my doctor apparently had not seen any of those movies because he came on the line and said “Hey, I have some bad news for you.”.

Even if your doctor delivers the bad news in person, don’t expect it to be in his nicely appointed, quiet office where you and your spouse sit on comfortable leather guest chairs and he’s behind his mahogany desk patiently going over the details of your case with seemingly all the time in the world.  

I honestly do not know how Hollywood came up with that standard scene.  I’ve been treated by wonderful doctors at the Mayo Clinic, the University of Chicago, and Memorial Sloan Kettering and I have never been invited into such an office.  If those offices do exist, they must be on reserve just in case George Clooney or Barack Obama needs a medical consult.

Instead you will be shuttled into a barren exam room, parked on cafeteria chairs and told that the doctor will be in shortly, which in large teaching-hospital language means 30 to 180 minutes.

And, if you are especially unlucky that day - as we were when the surprise results came that cancer had spread to my liver - a new resident or fellow will be sent in first to practice the skill of delivering bad news.

So set your expectations accordingly.