Have you ever been the bearer of bad news? No, terrible news?
Are you one of those shoot the messenger kind of persons? Well, then imagine how hard it is for the bearer of the news especially when the message is life changing. Tell me, how do you look at a terminally ill patients’ family and deliver the news when they ask you, “Daktari, kwa nini hii ugonjwa haiponi na amekuwa akishinda hospitali?” Tell me, do you go have a glass of water first, wipe and imaginary beard of sweat from your forehead or do you rehearse in from on the mirror first putting on you most grave facial expression just to gain the confidence to deliver the news and an empathetic expression to comfort them? What do you do when the mother breaks into a wail and starts tugging at her shawl and her hands quickly find the back of her head as she calls the names of her ancestors? Do you stand there awkwardly and ask them whether they have any more questions or clarification or do you silently weep with them? One doctor once told me that contrary to popular belief, one never gets used to death. Not even morgue attendants. Not even brushing shoulders with loss hardens you enough to eliminate the despair and exasperation that comes with losing a life, even worse, a loved one. If you’re a doctor you sleep wondering what could have been done differently or what could hare been detected early enough to evade the tragedy.
It changes you.
And what about the patient? Do you tell them that you only live once could never hit closer to home? Or do you stare at their eager, expectant eyes, bite the inside of your tongue and utter I’m sorry then follow it up with the dreaded but?
Isn’t it dreadful? To be the one to let a human being know that there’s no further hope for them save for enjoying the taste of air while their lungs can still allow them?
Which reminds of one of my favorite books that has a similar storyline and moved me tears and desperation where the author, Paul Kalanithi says that “Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m still living. “