Stepping into Another’s Shoes

Have you ever believed anything to be so true, even when it’s not?

Having celebrated Easter a few weeks ago, one memory always comes to mind during this time of year. When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher asked the class, “Who believes in the Easter Bunny?” I was the only one who raised my hand. Realizing that something was not right, I spoke to my mother about it when I went home. She explained to me that the Easter Bunny was not real. Upon hearing this news, I accepted it well and just continued on like nothing had happened.

Several months later, near Christmastime, I began preparing my wish list, asking for one expensive gift.  Upon seeing this particular item on my list, my mother commented, “I think this is too expensive.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” I responded, “I will ask Santa for it.”

“Do you remember the talk we had about the Easter Bunny?” Mom questioned.

“No!!!  Not Santa, too!” I yelled.  “I bet you’re going to tell me the Tooth Fairy isn’t real either!”

As I reflect on this incident, it is very similar to the approach we, as members of the medical team, have with families of our patients.  We share these bits of information with families on an as-need-to-know basis, or as we make the discoveries regarding the patients’ conditions and prognoses.  We also sometimes make conclusions that families who hear one piece of bad news understand the full picture of the grim prognosis.  However, like I still believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy after learning about the Easter Bunny, families may still remain optimistic about the outcome of their loved one’s condition for various reasons: spiritual beliefs, cultural and/or language influences, distrust with the healthcare system, etc.

During these difficult conversations, it is critical for us to make no assumptions and “step out of our own shoes.”  We must come to them with a “clean slate,” learning about them and their perspectives through verbal and non-verbal cues in the midst of the conversation(s).  Most importantly, though, we must rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and approach the families with the gentleness that the Lord demonstrated with those who are suffering.

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