Facets of a Diamond - Blog

“The Trauma of Diagnosis”

Many years ago, the Immigration Department required me to provide a routine chest X-ray. I went to the X-ray department at the prestigious hospital where I was employed and had the X-ray taken. The next day as I walked into my office, I saw the X-ray in an envelope on my desk. Pinned to the outside of it was the report – a very abnormal report, stating that I had gross dilation of the heart and aorta and other pathological changes. I looked at the top of the film to check that it bore my name and it did. Inside I went cold and dead. I sat down and looked at the report and thought, “My life is over. It may take me a year or two to die, but this report is a death sentence.”

Suddenly parts of my life flashed before me. In particular I thought about music and how much I loved it. And all the things I wanted to do, particularly in music, that now would never be done. It was the end of my work, the end of everything I knew. I thought back to the best parts of my life in Australia and realized they were all gone, that I would never see Australia again. Everything was over and done. I had a cold, terrible death‑like feeling gripping me inside. I felt that my life had been wasted – there were so many things left to do.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps the X-ray department had made a mistake – perhaps it was not my X-ray. So I called up the doctor in charge who had signed the report. He said to me, “Well, it is your X-ray and I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s what we see. That’s the condition.” The door was closed on all hope.

I had seen many of these X-rays myself and I had seen many specimens in this condition in the formaldehyde bottles in the pathology department. I knew what lay before me. My life was over. The sentence had been imposed, and there was nothing to do but wait for it to be carried out. I remembered that they say when you sentence a man to death, it is not the death that you sentence him to – it is the time before the execution when he knows with utter certainty how and when he will die.

And then the miracle occurred. The radiologist called back to say that when he re‑examined the film, he saw that the technician had made a mistake – that instead of taking the X-ray on full inspiration, it had been taken on full expiration. This incorrect technique would cause it to appear to be the type of abnormality it seemed I had. I raced over. Another X-ray was taken, and it was normal.

Now, whenever I see a patient, on whom a serious diagnosis has been made, I know what is going on in his heart, in his thymus. I had to suffer that only for a few hours. Some of them have lived with it for five or ten years. I can imagine just a little of the horror and the emptiness and deadness, of the low thymus activity, the coldness that he is feeling in his heart.

I now realize how doctors must be extremely careful never to cause such fear in their patients. There are ways of telling people such as to minimize this. And then once the patient has been told, everything must be done to re‑activate the thymus, to get him living again.


Excerpt from the book:Facets book cover



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