Memo to young doctors

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

You can’t screw up good news
You can forget the part about
how it’s not cancer
until I have to ask you point blank
You can give me an intricate –
and no doubt interesting –
blow-by-blow account
of the ins and outs of the biopsy
while all I can think is
will I live?
You can use such abstruse
Latinate-sound language
I wonder if I’ve stumbled into
a pre-Vatican II mass
You can mumble and stumble
forget to make eye contact
forget to make sense –
It doesn’t matter
I will still give you a hug
and tell you
you are a wonderful doctor

On the other hand, bad news is always
… bad
No matter how gentle your voice
how honest your words
how sincere your regret
I will still rage and rail
yell at you
ask you unanswerable questions
expect you to be God
demand a second opinion
blame you, want to kill you

Be patient
I will still need you to give me a hug
and tell me I’m a wonderful person
even if I’m dying