David Watts, MD
is an eloquent physician-writer and poet who illuminates the joys and trials of Medicine. His recent book, Bedside Manners: One Doctor’s Reflections on the Oddly Intimate Encounters between Patient and Healer
, includes stories that reveal his insight, imperfections, humor and compassion. The essays capitalize on his special gift to describe encounters with the elderly and the disenfranchised.
There is particular power in his story entitled “Evening in the Two Worlds.” An older gentleman is learning for the first time that he has widespread cancer. Dr. Watts does not pre-plan the speech with which he will break the bad news. He depends on his relationship with the man to guide the encounter. He writes: My words will not form until they are spoken, reading the twitch of his face, the subtle motions of head and trunk, the silent conversation that will tell me how to deliver the news.
I am as good at this as anyone, and as bad. This conversation, like a blossoming, moved so slowly as to be imperceptible. Yet when remembered, remembered as lightning speed.
After he finishes the discussion, he reflects on the power of his words and the need to maintain hope: The moment will tolerate only truth, but that truth has to contain promise. It’s about words, words and the weight they carry.
Dr. Watts’ example rings true with those of us who have the privilege of trying to use mere words to clearly, respectfully and compassionately tell a fellow human being that he or she has cancer.
The words we share can sting with their message and their power. Compassion and presence remain our overriding responsibility, and, at the final stages of disease might well be the best gift we can offer.
The following is feedback received for this blog:
We have always respected the power of words. Doctors must especially be aware of what and how they say things. Dr. Watts has proven to be sensitive to this need.
- Joyce Harvey