Few diagnoses are as crushing as cancer, and the hope that a patient grapples for after the news can be so fragile that anyone who touches it could have a disproportionately profound impact–one way or another.
The weary oncologist who keeps his eyes on the computer screen, his portal of data-driven power, and gives one-word replies to the patient who is desperate for answers is not signaling that the patient needn’t be anxious because he is in control. He’s conveying that he doesn’t really care about the patient’s feelings.
The friendly nurse who says, “Don’t worry, the tumor is not so big,” can provide a world of reassurance in a moment when all the patient knows for sure is that she doesn’t want to die yet.
It’s encouraging to see that a wealth of research in psychology is being put to use in improving what patients sense in each step they take to get their care.