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A Fine Line (Insight of the Day)

Tears poured from her eyes as if there was no tomorrow, and in a sense, for her, there were no tomorrows. That was her reality. Her daughter was in the Shock Trauma Intensive Care Unit (STICU), having sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well as numerous other injuries. The 17-year-old patient, still in a coma, had been injured two months earlier and the mother had just been told, "You know, with this kind of injury, your daughter's current condition might be the best she'll ever be."

The nurse who told the mother that night that terrible prognosis might have been 100% correct. But, no mother wants to hear words like that from a nurse. Mothers just want to hear, "Everything is going to be fine. Your daughter (or son) will one day be able to get married, go to school..One day this will merely be remembered as a terrible nightmare."

However, we all know that "bad things happen to good people," and sometimes unfortunately, there is no "happy Hollywood movie ending." No matter how hard the staff tries, people pass away at hospitals all the time.

However, working in a hospital, I've seen first hand, patients who were given "absolutely no hope" to awaken from a coma, sometimes eventually "miraculously" improved. That is why I often tell people, "I love my job because I get to see 'miracles' happen all the time."

I guess one can say I have a unique perspective as I was one of those patients of whom the doctors said, "There is absolutely no hope." I sustained a traumatic brain injury. However, as I said, I've seen many patients suffering from strokes, heart attacks, internal bleeding, who were all given "no hope" diagnoses, but survived and many went on to live productive fulfilling lives.

Why do some patients with absolutely "no hope" diagnoses survive while others do not? I'm not sure whether there is a definite answer to that question. However, the statement made by the nurse to that mother keeps bothering me. Basically, I believe, that nurse was telling the mother not to have hope. (More altruistic people might say that the nurse was preparing the mother for the inevitable.)

On the other hand, good friends often try to help by saying things like, "Mary is going to be just fine, or "Johnny will be well in plenty of time for his senior prom." However, what happens if that, or anything else, does not go the way it is "supposed to"?

I like to say, "Hope can be miraculous." I always say, "I hope.," as I believe that no human knows for sure the eventual outcome. Doctors know statistics. They know, for example, that there is a 98% chance or even a 99.999% chance of something happening. However, no human can say they know with 100% certainty that something will happen, because if one says that, that is when the "one in a million" will happen. It is like the election on TV. The news reporter says, "We predict that the next president will be____ with a 96% chance of certainty." That means they are 96% sure of the winner; however they still leave a 4% possibility of the opponent winning. It happens. Just ask Harry Truman.

Some staff at the hospital might say that a family is in "denial." However, I believe that sometimes denial can be an effective coping skill. I am glad that my family, when I was hurt, "was in a constant state of denial."

I am not saying that the staff should tell families that "Everything is going to be okay." No one can say that -- just as no one can say the opposite. However, I believe that the staff should share a wide range of possible outcomes -- from the worst to the best. When I do that, I always add as a postscript, "My hopes and prayers are with you and your son (or daughter)." Remember, hope can be miraculous. It was for me, as well as many other "hopeless patients." Whether you are in the hospital room, a courtroom, or a board room; a person needs hope!


By the way: concerning the patient who I spoke about in the beginning of this story, I was fortunate enough to be invited to her high school graduation a few years after her accident and she recently completed a 5K walk for charity. Yes, sometimes hope can be, and is, miraculous!

©2008 by Michael Segal; all rights reserved

Sent to you as a courtesy of:

Bob Proctor

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