Life-altering events come and go in an emergency room, and the commotion swirling about is an intgral part of these. The car crash that severs a limb. The heart attack in the “healthy-as-a-horse” guy which gets him onto a list of medications. The stroke that leaves the garrulous grandmother mute.
The one diagnosis we always “rule out” is the one that we perhaps least expect to make in the emergency department, thought it does happen from time to time: the big, scary, advanced cancer.
My last day in the local emergency department found me making my first diagnosis of cancer.
The question I asked myself as I broke the news and lined up the next set of tests and referrals, was how much did the patient see coming? Was he really surprised by what we told him? Did he have his suspicions as he got more and more short of breath that something serious might be happening? Or did he think it was just a cold?
He didn’t react. At all. Not a blink.
They tell us that a patient hears nothing after the word cancer. His brother came to be with him, and looked terrified enough for both of them, like a deer in the headlights. I wonder how he will do. I wonder about the medical side, but I also wonder when it will register with this young man what is happening.
Maybe it’s because I am so new at this that I find it so difficult.