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Not your everyday ward round

Is too much hope bad?

In the face of all the best logic should we still have hope?

Almost 20 years ago I was working in a country hospital and I was sending a woman home from hospital with metastatic breast carcinoma. The cancer had spread to her bones and had resulted in very high calcium levels. When she was admitted she was in a very bad way. Lots of hydration and a regular pain and nausea relief schedule and four days later she was feeling much, much better.

She and her husband were both deeply religious and both were of the determined opinion that she would be cured by God. I felt that I had to talk to them about preparing for the worst. “I believe that miracles can happen”, I said, “But… miracles are just what they are because they’re the exception and no-one can predict to whom and for what reason they will happen.” I asked them if they wanted to have a chat with a counsellor about preparing for the future?

This was after I had quite openly said to them that most doctors, myself included, were reasonably good at attempting to alleviate physical symptoms but were pretty lousy at approaching the psychological/spiritual aspects of illness especially the (usually) terminal illnesses. Consequently, I have no idea if what I thought I said was what I did actually say. But they knew what I meant, I think, and were happy, I think, that I had said it.

She went on to say that they knew that everyone thought they were in denial or nuts or both but they were confident that God was going to cure her. And yes there was that other possibility that she might die in the not too far distant future and they hadn’t discounted that either. They had discussed all of the above with their pastor and others in the church and their family and didn’t think that talking with anyone else would add to or change the way that they felt about any of it. They were content.

There I was trying to change them and in a strange way I think they changed me.

Hope for the hopeless; miracles; faith. Not the sort of stuff that is normally chatted about on ward rounds.

Better to believe in the improbable than to succumb to the inevitable.

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