Oh, for a little humanity

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 21 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1601
  1. Sally Magnusson, journalista
  1. a Glasgow G1 1QP

    Not many laughs this last fortnight. I went to visit a close friend in a hospital near London who had recently had a breast lump and her lymph glands removed. I found her curled like a fetus on her bed in one of those grim wards that seem positively designed to make you feel ill.

    I was shocked by how utterly drained and beaten she looked. She had been home since the operation and had sounded quite perky on the telephone. Yet after being in this hospital for only a couple of days she looked finished.

    Physically, it transpired, she was feeling not too bad; emotionally she was wrecked. Two days before, still weak from the operation, she had been invited to turn up at 10 00 am to learn the results of a scan. She waited all day. At 6 00 pm she was told that she had cancer of the liver and four small brain tumours. She seemed to have no idea what the treatment would be, whether it was worth having, what her options were, where she would have it, what the effects might be. To just about all of the hundred and one questions I asked her, she said: “I don't know.”

    “Haven't you asked the doctor?” I kept saying. Oh, she had tried. But he was so dry, so distant, always in such a hurry. It wasn't that he was rude, exactly, just that he never looked her in the eye, never seemed to speak directly to her, just barked questions at the nurse over her head, and grunted in reply.

    “I kept trying to focus on the right question, but the next minute he was gone. In and out like a whirlwind. It happens every time I see him. I get so confused. He …

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