I’ve been thinking a lot this week about delivering bad news. It’s a big part of being a doctor and I don’t know that we get prepared enough for it. I mean, sure, it’s actually taught now in medical schools, but again and again, the newly graduated junior doctors I meet don’t quite grasp just how much we have the responsibility of bearing bad news—which is basically every diagnosis.
So I’m very conscious when I’m talking to patients with junior colleagues that I have the added responsibility of modelling it for them. Which in turn gets me to thinking more about what I do and how and why. And because I believe our top job as doctors is to offer people hope, I have to reconcile the tension between bearing bad news and leaving them hopeful.
A general rule of thumb I’ve found helpful is that in trying to help people stay hopeful, I won’t do it at the expense of honesty. If stuff is bad, they need to know how bad it is. But I’ve also found, paradoxically, that accepting things are bad allows you to focus on what you can do something about instead of banging your head against the wall that won’t move. Loss is hard to accept, but the acceptance creates space for something new.
And people quickly realise that if you do offer hope, you really mean it.
On parenting, from a non-parent (essay)
This week, I wrote about family. The essay started with remembering my cousins, who were a big part of my childhood but evolved into a reflection on parenting and raising children in the modern world. (I’m not a parent, but I’ve certainly enjoyed being around the children of many friends and family, as well as volunteering with adolescents in both Nigeria and the UK, so it’s safe to say I’ve been around a lot of parents!)
I quite enjoyed this. As usual, here’s the opening:
I remember my cousins as a big part of my growing up.
They feature in many of my favourite childhood memories. I remember them coming over to spend a week or four with us. I remember how my brothers and I would ask our parents if they’d be in Akure when were going there for Christmas. One of them, a gifted storyteller, holding us captive with her tales of adventure: we knew she was making them up, but they were so fun! (She went on to be a journalist.) Another spent many months with us after she finished school and was looking for work, and remained with us a good while after.
Those are just the ones who lived with us…
You can read the rest of the essay here: It takes a village
Skin in your family (quote)
Speaking of family, this line from Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is quite apt.
I especially love the bit about how “my skin lies in a broader set of people.” Your skin extends beyond you—sounds like the beginnings of a great proverb.
Stones in the market (Yoruba proverb)
Speaking of family:
If you throw a stone in the market, you’ll inevitably hit a relative.
I came across this proverb in the recent Netflix Nollywood miniseries, King of Boys: The Return of the King, which was all the rage on Naija Twitter when it dropped last Friday.
It’s sort of a Yoruba version of the proverb about not throwing stones at glass houses, but I like that it especially focuses on the fact that you not only hurt yourself, but also those you love. It’s the kind of little touch that reminds you how much non-Western thinking prioritises community.