Forum: Honesty without sensitivity can be disastrous in illness management, Forum News & Top Stories

Words are powerful tools. They can be used to empower or disempower (Focus on sick person’s problems, not just diagnosis, June 2).

Illness management often has the unfortunate consequence of putting us patients on a conveyor belt, with stops at various “destinations” to receive little packets of localised knowledge.

We are processing creatures and need ways to register what happens to us. When we go to a healthcare professional, we want an explanation for why we have the symptoms that we do and what they may be signs of, in whatever terms they are being put across.

We are aware no one is immune when sudden illnesses blindside us, and someone has to be a statistic.

However, communicating reliably with someone in a straightforward manner needs to be done in a timely manner.

For example, a doctor may let a patient know about his situation honestly, but it is an act of unkindness if that patient is ill-prepared for such bluntness.

Sometimes it could be that the patient’s state of mind may not prepare him to accept the doctor’s honest diagnosis at that point in time, and for it to have an impact on him.

If the timing is wrong, and the patient can’t accept the diagnosis point-blank, the honesty given without sensitivity can be disastrous.

When we speak after understanding the whole context and setting, our heart governs our communication.

The greatest gift we can offer is the gift of understanding. Each of us seeks to be understood; for to be understood is to be given the assurance that we are not walking alone in our journey.

Sherman Goh Keng Hwee

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