ISSN: 2154-8331 (Print) 2377-1003 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ihop20
Ignorance Is Not Bliss Dorothy Millstone To cite this article: Dorothy Millstone (1977) Ignorance Is Not Bliss, Hospital Practice, 12:10, 59-59, DOI: 10.1080/21548331.1977.11707207 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21548331.1977.11707207
Published online: 06 Jul 2016.
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Date: 31 August 2017, At: 06:33
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Ignorance Is Not Bliss The Medical Center is certainly one of the 700 wonders of the modern world. (Figure adjusted to l"ompensate for inflation.) As a colon cancer surgery patient in 1975, I learned to respect its bracing combination of high professional skill and effective patient education. Unlike other hospitals I'd known in 70 years of feisty life, staff at all levels were compassionate and supporting- whether mopping floors, distributing bedpans, or working as nurses and doctors. Counseling on what to expect and how to behave began before surgery and continued through discharge 14 days later. Nurses gave no inspirational pep talks. But they pressed me to the fine edge of my capacity and never quit insisting that I could do more. I appreciated the educational interaction between doctors and nurses. It kept me busy and free of self-pity, and when I got home I was fortified by the belief that I knew what to do for myself. Last fall, a chest x-ray showed that the colon cancer had metastasized and invaded both lungs. In September 1976 I became a card-carrying member of the Medical Center's outpatient chemotherapy department. Chemo worked well for me right away. I rejoiced to find in chemotherapy the Center gives its usual high-standard care. But I also found that in this realm, it utterly starves the mind. I came green as spring grass to the doctor who was to direct my treatment. In a 1o-minute introduction, this brisk, attractive, authoritative woman of about 35 explained that chemo had proved effective with many kinds of cancer; that it was not uniformly efficacious; that its side effects could be annoying, sickening, or C"Ven intolerable. But it was all there was for me right now. My blood would be monitored, and other tests would be made periodically. Questions galloped through my head. What's chemo's track record for colon cancer? Whom can I call if I'm in trouble? Are there any ordinary drugs I should shun? Is it okay to ingest alcohol? How much is all this going to cost? Do I need another doctor to look after my soma while you deal only with my "oma"? Some of these I articulated and was told: eat anything you want; it's okay to drink, but not too much, of course. But most replies were summary. Other patients were waiting, and the practiced hand of the doctor worked me rapidly toward the door. I felt as if I'd been gently removed hy an automatic ejector. On the way out I did ask if there was an orientation lecture or a fact sheet. The answer was a simple "No." Since my working experience has been as reporter, editor, and health educator, I gave myself a free-lance assignment. I found a toll-free information service, operated by a hospital hundreds of miles away, financed by the National Cancer Institute. A pleasant voice there answered a few questions and sent me some useful background materials on chemotherapy. I even discovered that this was one of 19 toll-free services financed by NCI. Under the Medical Center's listing in the telephone directory, I was surprised and pleased to find an information service with a number of its own. The friendly voice at the other end of the wire asked if I'd been referred by doctor or nurse. I told her my secret phone book system. She sent me more background material. I began to put together a helpful little library. In the chemo waiting room, I found that patients talk frankly, comfortably, and encouragingly to each other. They're not sad sacks. They're spunky and hopeful, probably because chemo's making them winners just now. But I found my fellow patients shared my ignorance. I love the Medical Center and its staff. But I'm convinced that an uninformed patient is more vulnerable than one professionally counseled. The temptation to take advice from anybody at all is intensified. Ego sags because the doctor doesn't think I'm able to understand my own plight. I'm eager to see patient education introduced. As a minimum, the Center should publicly display the telephone number of its own information service. A once-a-month briefing for new patients and their families could be strengthening. Much could be gained, too, by an occasional meeting of chemo patients with the same type of cancer. Is this too much to ask? Mr~. Mlllatone refired in 191~ aa mrector of PubUcafiona and AraocCate mrector of lnformatwn and Education of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
llospital Practke October 1977