You ask rather a lot of us. You want us to trust you with our bodies, our minds, and our lives so that you may heal us. We do. We offer you that trust willingly because we want answers, and because we are sometimes afraid, and because we want to understand. In return, I am asking you for your respect.
When my late grandfather was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 I was living and working in Dublin, Ireland. I was horrified when I heard that the man who had helped raise me was diagnosed with cancer, but even more horrified when my mother told me that his doctors had advised his family to keep the information from him. When I asked what the logic was behind this reasoning, my mother told me that his doctors were concerned that the information would kill him. Furious, I told my mother to disregard the doctors advise and to tell my grandfather what ailed him. The worst sort of hope is a false hope, I remember telling her. Bite the bullet and do it, I urged. They did, and he took it calmly. ‘Oh, cancer’, he had said, shrugging. ‘I can beat cancer.’
He didn’t. Cancer claimed him and he became another statistic to the medical world; my late grandfather to me. It wasn’t the information that he had cancer that killed him, but the disease itself. But because he knew he was probably going to die, he was able to sort out his affairs. He asked to see me; I resigned my job and flew back to India to be by his side. I don’t regret that decision, and I never will. But what I do regret is the fact that I knew that India’s doctors were probably going to continue to lie to their patients and keep vital information from them.
Everybody has the right to know. I have the right to know what is wrong with me. How can you expect me to fight something if I don’t know what it is? Would you send someone to battle ill-equipped for it? Would you send them without weapons, without a plan, without prior knowledge of the enemy?
Then why would you do that to your patients?
Know that just as you expect us to trust you to heal us, we also trust you to tell us the truth. Keeping information from us is debilitating and serves no purpose. If you really want us to get better, then tell us the truth. We can handle it.
Last week, I wasn’t surprised to learn from an acquaintance who had lost her relative that they had kept his life-threatening condition from him on the advice of his doctor. I didn’t know the woman well enough to offer her my opinion, but I do judge her. I judge her – and I judge her doctor.
Perhaps it’s not every doctor in India with this dishonest policy, because partial truth is also dishonest; perhaps there are a few rotten apples tainting every other apple in the doctor basket. Perhaps. I don’t know. But this is a story I’m hearing too often, and it’s starting to piss me off.
Don’t send people to battle without any knowledge of the enemy they’re fighting. Don’t tell your patients they’ll be alright if they take two of that and lie down. Respect us.
We respect you – and respect is a two-way street.