I'm on the I.V. team and rarely interact with terminally ill patients. Last week I was called to start an I.V. line on a patient with cancer who had poor venous access. When he told me he was terminal, I was startled and almost said something like, "We're all terminal," but that seemed trite. Instead, I just held his hand. Was that okay?-R.F., ONTARIO
It was very much okay. Even though you didn't know what words to say, your action spoke brilliantly. He felt heard.
I agree that it would have been insensitive to respond to such a heartrending statement with "we're all terminal." It may be true, but unlike seriously ill patients, you andI don't awaken every morning wondering if today is the day we'll die. You might respond instead by gently asking, "Would you like to talk about that?"Or you could just hold hands.