What Ruth’s doctor had done was unusual, or maybe even inappropriate, they told me — delivering bad news, especially over the phone, before it needed to be conveyed. When I asked them when the right time was to tell someone that death is unavoidable, they most often told me that the moment occurs after several successive attempts at stopping the cancer have failed. Only then, when the patient is cornered by cancer, that’s the time.

Doctors claim that patients aren’t ready for the bad news earlier, when they are still digesting their shocking predicament: that their lives have changed irretrievably; that their priorities, their future aspirations, their promises to their loved ones-both the explicit and, more important, the implicit ones-would go unfulfilled. They cite their own hesitations too. Doctors want to be purveyors of hope rather than despair, a motive sometimes attributed to compassion, sometimes to a starker concern that patients will find a new, more optimistic second opinion.

I’m a fan of bluntness, but I know it can be detrimental when a patient isn’t ready and can cause confusion when other doctors are shimmering with lighter scenarios. Ruth’s doctor may have done the right thing despite what my friends were telling me. There’s a famous report from the Institute of Medicine showing that nearly all adults say they want doctors to share what they know, even if the news is bad. Ruth had expressed this sentiment to me many times, as in “I don’t want my doctor knowing something about me that I don’t.” (Examiner) >

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A loss of emotional empathy with our patients is also one of the first things to disappear in doctors who burn out through stress, exhaustion and depression. Many doctors and other healthcare workers can still continue to work despite the loss of empathy, of course. But removing genuine caring from a healthcare interaction results in an experience reminiscent to being dealt with by an overwhelmed, undervalued, unhappy airport employee. Upsetting when your flight is delayed, but potentially catastrophic in healthcare. (Medical Independent) >

Three years ago, Dennis O’Driscoll selected work for the “Poems for Patience” project, which GUH and Cúirt have run annually since 2004. This year, poet Theo Dorgan introduced his selection of 21 pieces of work by Irish and international writers, which are framed and displayed during Cúirt, and which are then installed in waiting areas of University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital.

Authors ranging from Carol Ann Duffy, Samuel Green, Sharon Olds, Moya Cannon andJean Valentine to Persian lyric poet Hafiz, the Greek poet Sappho and Minamoto No Morotada of Japan are among the selection, while a piece entitled Just the One by Galway poet Síghle Meehan – the winner of this year’s annual contest as part of the project – is also displayed. (Times) >

His new book In My Room – the Recovery Journey as Encountered by a Psychiatrist , is based on composite real-life experiences of depression, alcohol dependence, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress. What Lucey focuses on, though, is not treatment plans and therapeutic approaches, but how the individuals describe their experience and how, in most cases, they learn to move beyond it.

Lucey cites Dr Dorothy Keelan, former senior psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital and the late Prof Anthony Clare, former medical director of St Patrick’s Hospital, as the most significant influences on his decision to become a psychiatrist.

“Dr Keelan showed me how to engage with the whole life of the person in such an intelligent and kind way. And I was so fortunate to work with Dr Clare, who was generous in his teachings and insights and open about psychotherapy. He also saw art, poetry and literature all of value to working with mental health.” (Irish Times) >

I wonder do we – doctors and relatives – sometimes abandon relatives to further treatment that may not extend their lives without asking them how they feel about it? Treatment costs aren’t just economic, they can be emotional and spiritual as well. (Times) >

“The HPat is an aptitude test. I think the medical schools were afraid that lots of students, who were really good at exams but couldn’t relate to people, were getting into medicine so they decided to introduce this test that examines what you would do in certain situations as well as reading and interpreting how someone might be feeling in different scenarios. There was an idea that you wouldn’t need very high points if you did well in the HPat but that’s not exactly the case as I found out. Still, I think it’s probably a good thing to make sure people going into medicine have more to give than brilliant Leaving Cert results.

“I was really young when I first decided that I wanted to be a doctor. My Mum’s a nurse, my grandmother is a nurse and I like the idea of being able to help people. I like the hands-on nature of the job. I’d hate to be stuck behind a desk all day.” (Times) >

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