I’ve experienced the best and worst of medical bedside manner. Four years ago, a Winnipeg physician told me in a straightforward yet reassuring conversation that I had cancer. Months later, a Toronto doctor proclaimed there “was no real point” in treating my disease because it would just keep returning. (Hey Doc, I’m still here.)
And I wondered what might be the worst way to learn one has cancer……
DOCTOR: Hi Mike. Let’s get right to it. After all, you’re sitting here, and I know there’s only one thing you want to know. Is it cancer or is it not? That reminds me of a long story about a previous patient. See, the fellow —
MIKE: Doctor, please!
MIKE: The test results?
DOCTOR: Right! Now, when I deliver good or bad news, I add little personal touches to balance the impact. Like, if it’s good news, I walk in with a stern, pitying look, so they’re extra relieved when I tell them. But if it’s bad news, I enter smiling, wearing something cheery.
MIKE: You’re wearing a clown suit.
DOCTOR: Yes. Yes I am. So here’s the diagnosis, straight and to the point. Mike, do you ever worry you haven’t saved enough money for retirement?
MIKE: Not really.
DOCTOR: Worry no more. Because I can say, without doubt, you have enough money for the rest of your life.
MIKE: I have about 800 bucks.
DOCTOR: You have enough money for the rest of your life.
MIKE: I don’t follow you.
DOCTOR: True. In fact, I’ll probably follow you by a good thirty years.
MIKE: What kind of cancer is it?
DOCTOR: Oh it’s that new kind that everybody wants. Heh, just kidding.
MIKE: I mean, where is it?
DOCTOR: Look at this MRI scan of your torso. Do you see these three tiny white spots?
DOCTOR: It’s not there.
MIKE: So it’s —
DOCTOR: Everywhere else.
MIKE: (Long pause) How much longer do I have?
DOCTOR: I hate to make predictions. Let’s just say, when you use a parking meter, buy the time in half-hour periods.
MIKE: What was that?
DOCTOR: I squeezed the clown nose. Feel better?
MIKE: I don’t think you’re a very good doctor.
DOCTOR: Ah, we call that ‘denial.’