Dealing with a Difficult Medical Diagnosis

Getting a difficult medical diagnosis is challenging at best. Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote extensively about the five stages of grief that accompanies the experience of loss. Although her work originally described the reaction to the death of a loved one, the same cycle applies to those experiencing health issues requiring surgical intervention.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s Five Stages of Grief:

  • Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger:Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Please God make this not happen and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad or down to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
Woman exhibiting signs of stress

This is a simplistic model of what any of us experience when we are struck with a tough reality that we need to integrate into our consciousness. The process of getting a difficult diagnosis or dealing with any loss issue is considerably messier and less predictable than the one Kubler Ross describes. Nevertheless all of these five stages appear eventually on the horizon of one’s experience.

Learning about a difficult medical diagnosis can be challenging, but like most things, being prepared makes the process a lot less daunting.

How to prepare for surgery and manage post-operatively:

  • Keep a positive attitude. People who are facing surgery undoubtedly experience fear, worry and anxiety. Keeping a positive attitude can help lessen those emotions. Write a few affirmations pertaining to your surgery and repeat them often. Focus on a positive outcome. When your mind wanders away from a positive outcome, give it a gentle nudge back. Peggy Huddleston illuminates mind-body techniques that help patients mentally prepare for surgery and in turn, heal faster.
  • Use meditation as an effective tool to mentally prepare for surgery and to handle difficult situations after surgery. When meditating focus your thoughts on breathing, calmness, and healing.
  • Talk about your fears and apprehension with a relative or friend. Verbalizing your feelings can make a profound difference on your inner experience, even when nothing changes externally. A partner or friend you can talk with openly and honestly will diminish the intensity of complicated feelings around a surgery.
  • Rely on your faith. If you are religious put your trust in God and leave the surgery in His/Her hands. Ask family members and friends to pray for you during the surgery and afterwards for a full and speedy recovery. Even if they do not share your religious beliefs you can still derive benefits from other’s prayers. Have faith in the surgeon’s ability as well as your body’s ability to heal.
  • Consult with your physician regarding any concerns you have about your health condition or the surgery. He/she can answer any questions you may have and help to alleviate your fears. Your physician will understand your feelings and will be happy to reassure you in any way possible.
  • Surround yourself with loving, supportive people. You may feel like keeping your upcoming surgery to yourself but it may actually be best to share the information with friends and co-workers. If they are aware of your health condition and surgery they will no doubt support, encourage you, and offer their assistance to help you and/or your family. Knowing that you have people who love and care for you can be the best preparation.
  • Get informed. Learn everything you can about your health condition and the surgical procedure. Being informed is being prepared.
  • Talk to other people that you trust who have had the same surgery. Glean from those conversations kernels of information that might be of value to you while keeping in mind that no two people experience a surgery in the same way.

What strategies do you employ to get through periods of grief and anxiety?


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