Coming to Terms with Fatal Disease: Talking with your Doctor

The Doctor by Luke Fildes

The Doctor by Luke Fildes

If you do not die suddenly from an accident, heart attack or stroke, chances are you will die a slow death from disease or simply from aging. Unfortunately, in the latter case, doctors are well trained in every possible aspect of saving a life, but little on how to treat death and dying. So, if you are diagnosed with a fatal or chronic condition, how do you talk with your doctor effectively?

When you are diagnosed with a fatal illness or chronic condition, try to discover as much as possible about the medical facts about your condition. Most doctors are overworked, and many lack the skills to offer counseling for the emotional aspects of dealing with your illness. But, most doctors can provide facts about your condition. Additionally, you can use other resources, as noted below, to learn more about how to deal with your condition emotionally.

The following questions were gathered from Dr. Daniel R. Tobin’s book, Peaceful Dying, a step-by-step guide to preserving dignity, your choices and your inner peace in death and dying. These questions were designed to get as much information from your doctor about your condition as possible:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • How long do you think I have to live? (while there is no surefire way for a doctor to predicit how long you’ll live, you can get a general idea of the life span of most people at your stage of disease)
  • What are the side effects of the treatments you are suggesting?
  • How much time do I have to make up my mind about which treatments to use? How will that time affect my treatment?
  • What treatments exist outside those offered by traditional Western medicine and where can I research such alternatives? (most doctors do not know much about alternatives, so you may have to search a little further to find answers to this questions)

Some tools you can use to find more answers include:

  • Get a second opinion and answers to your questions above.
  • Read more about your disease in books (written within the past five to ten years for the most updated information).
  • Join support groups for patients with your disease, and encourage your family members to do the same.
  • Surf the Internet for more information about your disease and treatments for that disease.
  • Seek counseling if needed with a specialist who understands grief, death and dying. This counseling can be invaluable for both you and your family.

When you are diagnosed with a fatal or chronic disease initially, the information you gather may be far different than information available to you as your disease progresses. Be sure to stay on top of new developments in your disease, as you never know when something might occur that either could ease your suffering or prolong your life.

In other words, while your doctor may be the best expert in his field, he may not know all the answers to your particular situation. You are responsible for your life and your death in many cases. So, take charge and live your life with dignity.

On a final note, sometimes diseases come on quickly and can incapacitate you without warning. Therefore, it might be wise to share this information with your family so that sharing in the responsibility becomes a family affair. When family members understand how to recognize and help treat H1N1, for instance, that knowledge may help to save a family member’s life.

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