Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | June 11, 2019

Do’s and Don’ts When a Loved One Gets a Difficult Diagnosis Part 1: Never Assume

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Don’t Make Assumptions If You’re Unsure What the Health Condition Is

If someone isn’t up-to-date on information about their loved one’s health, they might make assumptions based on the limited information available and their personal experiences. A person who’s experienced a brain injury, for example, might assume everyone who falls or otherwise has symptoms similar to theirs has a TBI or a heart attack survivor may assume every cardiac emergency is a heart attack.

Assumptions or speculation without knowing everything that’s going on might help fuel the rumor mill, which nobody needs. When the diagnosis is currently unknown, these speculations and assumptions also add to everyone’s stress level.

In one case I know of, where the diagnosis was congestive heart failure, one person’s misrepresentation of what was really going on lead to spreading rumors that their family member had suffered a heart attack. This unsubstantiated rumor even lead to an ex-spouse and their children & grandchildren showing up at the hospital unannounced (awkward!).

In cases where you don’t know what’s going on, refraining from sharing too much information until you know and you understand how much information they want others to know. Never share info without permission, even in the form of good intentions like requesting prayer for them (i.e. a general prayer for healing is usually okay).

If you’re not up-to-date on what’s going on but don’t want to seem like you’re pestering your loved one for information, casually mention that you may have missed their last update. Respect their right to volunteer as much information as they feel comfortable with, as well as their right to keep certain things to themselves.

Also, a helpful tip coming from one who has a chronic health condition: please bear in mind that chronic illnesses aren’t like acute injuries or short-term sicknesses like the flu or a cold. They are chronic, as in often lifelong and customarily incurable.

Such conditions are treatable, often with much of the emphasis on controlling symptoms and improving quality of life. People with these illnesses may have symptom-free remission periods, but part of understanding what they’re going through means accepting that how they’re feeling or what’s going on at any given time is not necessarily an indicator how “well” their health is.

Asking someone how they feel, how their health is, etc. is not something that has a cut-and-dried answer. Some people living with a chronic condition might prefer your letting them know you’re there for them, that you care or asking what you can do for them might be better.

Avoid making assumptions. Your loved one will appreciate it!


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