Frazzled

The tension in the work room was mounting. The research coordinator sat next to physician’s assistant who was waiting eagerly by the phone. She was waiting for a phone call from the radiologist. I knew who this was for as I had walked by the room multiple times and seen the patient pacing up and down in the room very anxious to know the results of her MRI scan. It’s not an easy sight. The pacing and that anxious look. The door was open as I passed by, her face staring at me longing for assurance. I gave none, because I did not know the result yet. I offered a simple smile, but this does not have the wanted effect. She continued pacing.

I feel a need well up inside me to remove this patient’s anxiety. Patience, my mind says, we have been down this road before. I’m ready for both battles, but not eager to engage in the battle of bad news. I continued what I do best, seeing other patients. I do not like not knowing too, I thought. I was beginning to get anxious myself, it’s taking too long for the radiologist to get back to us with the results – a sign perhaps that this was not going to be good news after all. I regretfully conjured up the thought of giving bad news. I carried that with me in my heart from room to room as my team patiently waited by the phone. She was not alone in this. But I am sure she felt that she was. We were all worried. That is a feeling we rarely share back with our patients. It’s the feeling that we need to know, for better or for worse.

It’s hard not to get involved emotionally sometimes waiting in anxiety for a test result that might determine the next treatment or seal the fate of a person. The phone finally rang. It’s annoying sound shattered the pensive feeling that surrounded it. It was like waiting for your final grade after an exam you had studied so hard for. I stood and watched, allowing the reality of the truth to become manifest. Her voice was solemn “yes” she said listening intently and jotting down what was being said. I could not hear the radiologist on the other line but I could hear the tone of the voice of the person receiving the news, it was reassuring. Her voice heightened with every response listening intently as the radiologist told her his thoughts about the scan. Each response she gave was happier than the previous. The coordinator and I were smiling. This sounded like good news, the tension in the air very quickly melting away.

We all walked into the room. Frazzled, my patient’s tears were quick to show, and we all shared the news that things looked better than they had seemed. In the rush of it, I hugged her and she started to cry. It was a powerful moment captured in the cathartic delivery of the truth after a very long wait. It was worth it in the end. The coordinator joked “now you have to fill out the questionnaire”, revitalized, the patient just said, “happy to”.

I have been through these times with many people, with them on this anxious journey. I tell you I do not like it one bit, the wait, the pacing, the lack of knowledge and the race of emotions as the truth unfolds. Experience has taught me to be patient as sometimes the unexpected does happen and the wait was merely a mask behind the victory that needed to be told.

Mo