When you’ve just heard you have a troubling health condition, there’s one word that will virtually guarantee you better health care:
When you’re first dealing with bad news about your health, unless your situation is immediately life threatening, your first reflex should be to pause. Not react. Not immediately see a specialist or a surgeon. Your very first and most important step is to do nothing.
Most people feel they need to act immediately: get another test, a biopsy, a procedure, or sign up for surgery just to stem the tide of what they picture as rapidly reproducing cancer cells, or the quick spread of infection, or the possible blockage of arteries. They want action. They want quick solutions. Fast remedies. They want the fear and the confusion to end. They want a plan.
Here’s a better approach:
- Take a deep breath and pause. Sit back and consider what you’re hearing from your physician. Try not to react emotionally. If you can compose yourself and think clearly, pose some questions. Ask: how much time may I take to evaluate the pros and cons of different options? If you’re too upset to think, ask how you might be able to ask more questions — perhaps by emailing, or at another visit in a few days.
- Learn the basics about your condition. Become fully briefed on your situation. Get a handle on your own data: learn exactly how your situation was diagnosed and what precise next steps are being suggested. Do your homework. Read about your condition. Talk with friends. Then go back to your healthcare provider with a set of well-informed questions.
- Get more data and other points of view. Depending on your situation, you may want to get your blood test re-done by a different lab to confirm the situation, or have biopsy slides or test results reviewed by another pathologist or other physician. If surgery or an invasive procedure is being proposed, you may want to ask if there are alternatives such as medications, radiology or other treatments. Get a second opinion or two. Talk to someone who advocates a traditional tried-and-true method and another who suggests using a proven new approach. Talk with others who have personally dealt with a diagnosis such as yours.
- Decide on your best course of action. Consider which alternatives are most palatable to you — what seems to be the right approach — given your personality and what you’ve heard from your physicians. Talk with the people you love.
And then, and only then, decide how you would like to move forward.