It is going to happen to all of us sooner or later. Out of the blue, we will be told by a doctor that we, or a loved one, have some illness that will turn our world upside down. But how many of us are prepared for that, and even if we are, where are the rules for how to cope?
No matter how devastating a diagnosis you get from your doctor, critical actions must be taken in a short window of time. Among them: learning about the condition and its treatments, deciding whether to involve others, finding the right doctors and hospitals, seeking other opinions about what is wrong and what to do about it, managing one’s work life, paying for care and finding relief. But first you will have to deal with the initial shock.
Parade Magazine published an excerpt of a new book on this subject, “AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You – or Someone You Love – a Devastating Diagnosis," and it has already been endorsed by many luminaries in the health care field.
The author of the book is Jessie Gruman, president of the Center for the Advancement of Health. Although the publisher has a legitimate interest in trying to sell a lot of copies, and although I work for the Center, I am bringing to to attention here because the book epitomizes the next challenge in health care – helping people cope intelligently with new information, even when it’s scary.
Some down-to-earth advice after you feel like you have been drop-kicked into a foreign country and abandoned without the language, the culture or a map:
This is a crisis: Treat it as one. Don’t try to go on as if nothing is happening to you. Stay home from work for at least 48 hours—and cancel your social engagements until you get your feet back under you.
If you usually exercise, keep it up—if you feel like it. If you don’t exercise regularly but feel closed in or agitated, go for a walk. If nothing else, it will remind you that the world is carrying on in spite of your news. Eat—even if you aren’t hungry; you don’t need a hunger headache. Breathe.
If you need family or friends to be with you now, tell them so. Conversely, if you need to be alone, tell them that. If you are with others and are suddenly overcome with grief or fatigue, excuse yourself, go into another room and close the door.
Remember, you owe no explanations to anyone right now. It’s your choice whom to tell and what to say during these first few days. You also are not responsible for taking care of others who are distraught over your news. Ask a family member or friend to call people you want to know about your diagnosis but with whom you don’t want to talk right now.
The only task you must accomplish during the first 48 hours is to set up the next doctor’s appointment.