7 Steps I Take After Receiving Disappointing Medical News


I’m not going to sugarcoat it here…sometimes it really bites to get bad news from a doctor. I, for one, have to literally pull my thoughts to the present moment as I have usually gone off on a horrible tangent into sudden doom as soon as the bad news hits – momentarily, of course.

In dealing with a spontaneous CSF leak, I’ve heard many stories of people who had their hopes up for a positive outcome from a diagnostic test, only to be told days later that nothing was found. Or, for many, they undergo promising procedures, only to find a few days or weeks or even months later that the “patch” has been unsuccessful.

I recently underwent a procedure that not only did not reveal what we wanted, but right in the middle of it, the doctor told me he was not doing what my doctor had ordered, but something altogether different. I handled it the way I need to handle things, but the beauty was that I did not go down “sudden doom alley,” and here’s how:

1. I carefully weighed the doctor’s words before opening my mouth.

2. I quickly did an inventory of my feelings to know I was angry and realized anger would not be welcome.

3. I made a valid, succinct argument and noted that I had expected the procedure asked for by my doctor.

4. I very quickly assessed the situation for positive outcomes regardless of my disappointment.

5. I accepted that “it is what it is” and I cannot change it. If nothing else, it is a lesson for the next time.

6. I made a plan to use what positives I could glean to move ahead with my care.

7. I addressed my concern with the doctor who ordered the procedure and we made a plan forward.

All this is to say that, for me, anger was not the way forward. It is a reaction I would be having and not an action forward. In a very quick, split-second decision, I changed the course of what would most likely have been a difficult conversation at a very awkward time (as I was mid-procedure) and ultimately would not have swayed the opinion of the doctor.

I chose to accept the circumstances and then do what I could to see the positive outcome from the situation (even though we may just have to repeat the exact same procedure for the third time). I calmly calculated mentally that I could use the information to my benefit even if it was not exactly what I had hoped for. And I just let the rest of it go.

Bad news is very challenging to receive. I once had a friend explain to me: “It isn’t when everything is going right that you test your resolve and your mettle – it is when someone tells you ‘no’ and you keep calm and you keep centered.”

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Thinkstock photo via AlexRaths.

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