Dr. Corbett, I have a feeling you’re about to give me some bad news. From the way you’re looking at my chart, I can tell the next words out of your mouth aren’t going to be good—there’s no two ways about it. That’s why I’m going to ask you to do me a favor, and just go ahead and give it to me as roundabout and sugarcoated as possible.
Take whatever it is you’ve got to tell me and find a way to make it really easy to swallow. Then at least I can walk out of here still clinging to the unfounded belief that everything’s going to be fine. I deserve that much.
Listen, doc. This is Jimmy you’re talking to here. I’m a grown man who really doesn’t want to deal with this right now. When I come into your office, I count on you to sit me down, look me square in the face, and—man to man—tiptoe around the difficult facts of my condition, so I can avoid coming to terms with any uncomfortable realities. That’s the kind of diluted, whitewashed medical opinion I rely on you for.
I don’t want you feeding me some line about survival rates or important steps we need to take right away. And I don’t want to listen to a bunch of terrifying numbers or an honest, forthright appraisal of my health. All I want is what every doctor owes every patient: a series of reassuring and evasive generalizations that gloss over any urgent threat to his well-being and allow him to continue living a life of willful denial.
Tell me exactly what I want to hear, doc. No more, no less.
If I have a serious illness, then I need you to come at me with that information as indirectly and ambiguously as you can. You got me? Beat around the bush on the results of my blood work, skirt the issue of how long I have to live, and, if possible, speak in careful euphemisms rather than mentioning any specific diagnosis. Should you see a terrified look in my eyes, be prepared with some vague anecdotal evidence aimed at convincing me that in cases like this, things often turn out just fine. It may not be easy for you, but I need you to take a deep breath, steady your voice, and be dangerously unclear with me here, okay?
And if that doesn’t work, and I start nervously insisting there must be some sort of mistake, you’ve got to take me aside and reassure me that while my results came back positive, such tests are never 100 percent accurate. Then look down at that chart in your hands and find something, anything, that indicates there may yet be a bright side to all of this.
Mince words with me, you understand? I need what you’re about to say to be easy to hear.
All I ask is that you just don’t tell me if I’m a goner. You absolutely cannot level with me on that point. I’m asking you, as my trusted physician, to insinuate that all these tests we’ve been running the past few weeks were basically just a precaution, and that there’s really nothing to worry about. So, go on, get to it. Say whatever you’ve got to say to prevent me from facing the bitter truth of my own mortality. Can you do that for me?
Come on, doc. I can take it.