Soundings

Telling the patient

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6992.1474 (Published 03 June 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1474
  1. George Dunea

    “The heart is grossly enlarged,” said the postgraduate student after completing his examination, while a multinational force of his colleagues crowded around the patient's bed.

    “Would you like to have an enlarged heart?” the instructor snapped.

    “No, sir,” answered the student, taken aback by the unexpected vehemence.

    “Then don't say it in front of the patient,” said the instructor.

    The year was 1960. The instructor was Paul Wood, at that time doyen of British cardiology. It was also the time when doctors still deemed it imprudent to frighten their patients with bad news. Syphilis was still the specific disease, a cancer was a lump, patients were not told their blood pressure readings, and physicians spoke of “accelerated” hypertension …

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