I love my job, but there is nothing fun about giving a patient bad news. I recently walked into the hospital room of a 23-year-old male college student. We spent the first ten minutes or so learning a little bit about each other, circumventing any medical conversation. He had been admitted for severe abdominal pain, and as a result he had undergone a series of x-rays and other tests. Little did I know that I was the first specialist to visit him – and more importantly, the first one to do so armed with the results of his testing.
As I questioned him and his parents about the events leading up to his hospital visit, I soon became aware of their lack of information. In a very straightforward and gentle manner, I explained the likely diagnosis of testicular cancer that had spread in the form of a large mass to his abdomen. What followed was inspirational.
There were no tears. No sense of denial. Not even a deep gulp. Instead, he and his parents took a unified and proactive stance. They were ready to meet and beat their foe. Of course, they wanted to hear all of the good and the bad, but they focused on the good.
The next day I saw my new patient one-on-one. He asked me about what he should expect in the months to come, but he was more interested in how his life would change in the distant future. At first I thought he was referring to future fertility. He then asked me a very simple question: “Will I still be able to mountain-climb?” After I gave him the answer he hoped to hear, he responded, “just one ball to get caught in the harness.”
I will remember that response forever. I just hope I can remind myself of this day anytime that I might be feeling down. It really puts things into perspective.