Patients And Their Families Need Time

Patients and their families need time to understand and be understood, to absorb, adjust, cope, accept, make changes, and heal physically and spiritually.

It takes time to tell the story. An undergraduate wrote: "It feels very frightening to think that a doctor can confuse a patient's diagnosis because he or she doesn't have time to listen____Perhaps telling stories was the only time where I felt I was in control."

It takes time for the patient to find meaning in the illness. A chaplain described this as "a gentle process, something that cannot be forced. It requires guiding with questions."1

It takes time to deal with a difficult child, parent, or dilemma, to adjust to an illness, and to accept advice. We cannot always expect an immediate change in an opinion or behavior. We cannot, overnight, cope with the impact of a diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, or other chronic illness. Nor can we decide quickly about having major surgery, undergoing chemotherapy, or declining treatment. It takes time to come to grips with a need to change our style of living—eating or work habits or a nicotine addiction. Patients and families think things over between visits to the physician, think about their physician's advice, ruminate, and talk things over with others. What goes on behind the scenes is substantial. They do "homework"; they read, they search the Internet, they may even get another medical opinion on their own.

It takes time for the patient to make peace with a spouse, a friend, or an estranged relative. Time, however limited, allows unfinished business to take place—the healing of a relationship or the resolution of some long-standing conflict.

It takes time to say good-bye. One student wrote about her dog's final months with cancer. "Medicine gave me time to say good-bye—not overnight, but over a period of eight months [after the diagnosis was made]. I will always be thankful for the extra time I had with her ... for I learned to truly appreciate her and all she gave to my life."

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