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Delivering bad news

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 11 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1233

I am a psychotherapist. Last year I was diagnosed with cancer. It occurred in my hand, a sarcoma near the fifth metacarpal. I had a difficult time receiving the news, mainly because of the shocking way that the consultant orthopaedic surgeon delivered it. A long wait for the result of a biopsy did not help. He promised that I would be seen within a month, though it was nearer three months before an appointment was offered. Perhaps the consultant had to wait to get the results. He did not tell me. In fact there were many things I was not told that would have helped. The increased wait meant my anxiety was heightened by the time I went for the diagnosis.

He had no idea of my understanding. I was shaken and belittled.

When the crucial consultation came I was ushered in to see the consultant ahead of other patients, which I thought was ominous in itself. Whether it was his usual practice or his anxiety about delivering bad news, I do not know, but I was not introduced …

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