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On Being a Doctor |

Legacy

Kathryn P. Celauro, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

From Nashville, Tennessee.

Current Author Address: Kathryn P. Celauro, MD; e-mail, katecelauro@gmail.com.


Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(1):70-71. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-159-1-201307020-00014
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Every day as I drive by the hospital where Dad was treated, I am disturbed by the thought that what our family experienced is being repeated daily in a medical culture that avoids guiding patients and their families through these difficult dialogues.

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The Art of Compassion
Posted on July 15, 2013
Carly Kelley, MD
Duke University Medical Center
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

The “Legacy” piece by Kathryn Celauro resonated with me, since I too have experienced the disconnection between physician and patient through the eyes of my mother. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer. Her diagnosis was unexpected, as is often the case with ovarian cancer. She had experienced swelling and weight gain and knew there was something wrong. After an ultrasound and CT scan, her primary care physician called her with the news. “Mrs. P. You have metastatic ovarian cancer.” He told her he would refer her to an oncologist and promptly got off the phone. No “I’m sorry to tell you this…” No “Would you like to come in and talk about it…” No “Do you have any questions…” As physicians, we see so many patients, deal with abnormal test results, and make dozens of phone calls every day. While this is just another diagnosis to us, to my mother, it was the worst diagnosis of her life. She needed compassion when being given news that would turn her life upside down.We need to remember that we are treating colleagues, parents, and friends, not just diagnoses when interacting with our patients. It seems as if Dr. Celauro’s father’s physician kept his distance, perhaps to protect himself from the grief that undoubtedly laid ahead in caring for his terminally ill patient. However, if he had been more truthful, warm, and understanding then perhaps his patient may have lived his last days in a more peaceful and willing manner.

Fortuitously, I became pregnant one month before my mother’s diagnosis. She fought to see her grandchild and successfully achieved remission by the time my daughter was born. Dr. Celauro, I am sorry that your father did not live to watch his grandchild grow up, but hope that your words remind us all of what drove us into medicine in the first place. We must do our best to take the time to connect with our patients, because a little empathy goes a long way. This is especially true when delivering news that will drastically change patients’ lives and when caring for those who are suffering. It was well said that in some cases there is no better treatment than the physician’s “arts of compassion, brave words, and gentle touch.”

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