Essay stage fright

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As a first year medical student having undergone surgery but awaiting chemotherapy for metastatic cancer (odds of getting testicular cancer = 3 in 100,000), I read in a text that there was a rare risk of death from bleomycin due to an anaphylactic allergic reaction. Freaked out, I went to my oncologist and declared that he never mentioned this risk to me before, and what else is being hidden from me, etc.. He looked at me and said very calmly but firmly,”Do me a favor – stop reading.” I got the message, and I did stop reading, because no matter how much information you take in and intellectualize the process, at some point you have to give up control and trust your doctors and let them do their thing. That is not to say abdicating all responsibility for your health, but a little knowledge is dangerous. One of the most important things that your doctor is charged with doing for you is digesting a huge amount of information, filtering it and sorting out what is relevant or not to your individual case, and applying it effectively. I knew a little bit, but I had no clinical perspective on all of the information available (remember this was before the internet existed) Once I sat back and was comfortable knowing I had good people doing everything they could for me, my anxiety level decreased significantly. As it turned out I did have a bad reaction one night from bleomycin as I did not get my benadryl premed and had high fevers, shaking chills and a horrible rash over my back. But I survived. And after nearly 22 years of survivorship and 12 years of practice as an attending physician, I tell my patients before their procedures that it is a fine line between giving information and scaring them to death. There is no easy way to tell people that there is a chance they could die as a result of what you are about to do. THat is why establishing trust and having patients really believing in what you are trying to do is critical so that you can face the consequences together, no matter what they may be. Fortunately life-threatening complications are rare, but their risk is never zero. There are always choices, but sometimes the risk of doing nothing is greater. Fortunately I think most people understand this, but it doesn’t make you feel any better when you are the unfortunate one to have a complication.

Essay stage fright

essay stage fright

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