I was struck this past weekend by how we doctors use words in ways not originally intended. An oncologist might say the following about her patient, “Frank failed cisplatin/doxorubicin, so we are going to use ifosfamide and etoposide.” What the doctor meant was that Frank was treated with cisplatin and doxorubicin, but these drugs did not control his disease. The drugs failed Frank, even though the doctor said that Frank failed the drugs.
In my most recent blog post, I discussed how it can be good to be wrong. But is that what I really meant? Of course not. It’s never good for me to be wrong. What is good is that I told the family there were two possible explanations for their child’s CT scan results, one more likely and one unlikely – and the unlikely (but better for the patient) result turned out to be correct.
On Sunday, the mother of my patient updated her CarePage. Her son, she said, is “getting bored with cancer.” Reading this reminded me of something I often tell patients when they are in the hospital and not much appears to be going on: “It’s better to be bored. Bored is good.” That sounds like something from 1984. Or from the Oliver Stone movie Wall Street (“Greed is good.”). But in this case, it’s true. Being bored with your cancer can only be a good thing. It means things are going well, there are no acute crises, and (to quote my patient’s parent’s blog again) “adrenaline [isn’t] flowing like a volcano.”
Sometimes Newspeak DOES reflect the truth.