Not knowing is sometimes worse.
Every week in my small band’s music rehearsal, we hear announcements. These are usually “pay your dues,” or “we’re meeting for dinner next week, come if you want!” But tonight a woman got up and told about her significant other being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and having to undergo intensive radioactive ablation therapy. She was in tears describing that they can’t sleep in the same bed for 5 days and then have certain precautions to follow due to the intensity of the radiation. She started to cry, and everyone around her was soon tearing up too.
I knew all of this clinically. How many patients’ thyroid replacement medications have I adjusted? How many people have I examined with a horizontal slice mark across their neck or a flat area where their thyroid had once been? How many people with palpitations, night sweats, brittle hair and nails, and a smattering of other symptoms have I helped by finding that perfect balance of thyroid hormone and tweaking their replacement medicine?
But I know all of this. I know the outcomes. I’ve seen the successes and the hardships after radiation to the thyroid. Because I was taught to know it. Because I was tested on it. And because soon, I’ll be paid to know it. And I find comfort in the knowing. I like being able to hear a diagnosis and see multiple examples of success stories & envision what the road ahead looks like. I have a complete picture.
But most people don’t. For most people, diagnoses like these are earth-shaking. They’re life-ruining. Because they only have one small piece of the complete picture. And I feel for them.
Tonight I realized how sometimes the burden of knowing the complete picture is heartbreaking. But sometimes it’s reassuring. And not everyone has that advantage. So I will keep this in mind next time I hear a diagnosis that a patient or family member is struggling with. I won’t dismiss it with “eh, they’ll be fine,” or “come on, just some treatments and meds and they’ll be good as new.” Because it’s a scary world we live in. Big medical words are intimidating. Physicians acting like a huge, life-changing diagnosis isn’t a big deal won’t help anyone. And sometimes ignorance isn’t bliss.