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‘Mother of four defies doctors to walk again,’ ‘Brave tot defies medics to celebrate first birthday’ and ‘Injured teen defies doctors to win major award.’
What lovely, heart-warming headlines. A refreshing change from the negativity of so much of the news these days.
Who could be so Grinch-like as to object to these cheery tales of triumph over adversity? Well, I’m always happy to hear a success story but as regards the choice of language my heart remains firmly un-warmed.
Much has been written about the analogy of illness with a battle. In this narrative, we fondly tend to picture doctors as – at the very least – supporting the fighter, buckling on their armour and stocking their arsenals with nifty therapeutic weapons.
But if you look at headlines such as these, it turns out that’s not what’s going on at all. We are the naysayers, the obstructers, the prophets of doom – if not actually the enemy.
‘Defiance’ suggests opposition and even animosity. Plucky little Belgium defied the Kaiser. David defied Goliath. And when patients ‘defy’ doctors, what are we to conclude but that we have been on opposing sides all along?
The doctors obstinately predict the worst, and only by struggling against the medical establishment can patients recover and flourish.
One reason for this is the gap between realistic predictions and what people want to hear. If someone will probably die, or be severely impaired, modern professional ethics dictate we must share that with them.
Naturally, if there’s a 10 per cent chance of recovery, most people will focus desperately on that 10 per cent.
The 90 per cent who don’t make it will never tell their story to the press; the 10 per cent who do will feel they were painted an unduly dark picture. For the doctor to collude with the patient in anticipating a rosy future which we know to be improbable is considered unacceptably paternalistic but sticking strictly to statistical facts can feel like twisting the knife in a wound.
From the patient’s point of view, hearing the doctor say, ‘wouldn’t you like someone to be with you?’ feels analogous to watching the judge don the black cap. And even to the doctor, giving a catastrophic diagnosis can often feel, irrationally, like imposing a death sentence.
The difference, of course, is that we are not the ones actually in inflicting the horror that lies ahead for our patients but under the pressure of emotion it can be easy to forget that. Evidently, journalists sometimes fall into the same confusion.
Next time you hear of a brave sufferer defying the doctors to reach some milestone that once seemed impossible, think again.
The doctors probably weren’t all that cross about the patient’s ‘defiant’ progress. Maybe – who knows? – they even helped them get there.
By the Secret Doctor. Read the blog and follow @TheSecretDr on Twitter and on Facebook
I'm afraid this piece highlights sloppy journalism bordering on 'fake news' all too prevalent nowadays.
I appreciate journos have to earn their crust, but not with hyperbole, inaccuracy and lies, surely.
They should be ashamed.
"Brave tot/mother beats the odds " would suffice, and would be honest.
Probably a little bit over anxious about perceptions? "Patient defies doctors" is merely a stock phrase, similar to 'phew! What a scorcher" if the ambient temperature rises a little above average. I rather doubt that the sort of journalist who uses such terms ever actually considers the thoughts or feelings of those about whom he or she writes, but only about how many chargeable words are published. The readers are even more conditioned to see such phrases, which tell them that the story will contain good news for someone. About as mindful as the robotic response to the figure ten published by anonymous.
Meanwhile, cheer up; patients' propensity to recover, despite all we have done seeming inadequate, makes practice much more rewarding.
Sadly, I think it may be time to take measures to prevent robots from cluttering the comment with ads.
Re the "overanxious" comment, I fear that's how the rot sets in and/or persists. "It's just a turn of phrase" becomes the orthodoxy and the next thing you know your the papers' next enemy of the people.
I've only just spotted these troll adverts.
Surely the BMA should not publish any 'anonymous' post, anywhere, unless it has been submitted to and passed by a moderator who can 'pass' a submission where anonymity is justified.
Otherwise the comments section should close.
I don't understand.
My last posting (about anonymous adverts) was not meant to be anonymous.
I am Richard Rawlins - I am logged into the BMA site as such and should have been identified by the system, as I was in my initial posting.
Richard Rawlins. Member, BMA.