The Art of Listening: Being Present When Someone Discloses Their Diagnosis

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald avatar

by Cazandra Campos-MacDonald |

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Sometimes, conversations lead me to reveal that my boys have hemophilia. It is usually a harmless conversation without any agenda. However, I am not always sure how to reply when someone tells me how sorry they are to hear that my boys have an illness. It often depends on my mood at that moment.

I wish people would not immediately feel that an apology is in order when hearing a person’s diagnosis. Unfortunately, the natural inclination to apologize seems to be an easy way to respond. As a mother of two sons with hemophilia, the last thing I want is someone feeling sorry for my children and me.

Perhaps the discomfort of not knowing what to say is what immediately pushes a person to apologize. Having a suitable answer for everything seems essential. No one wants to be in a conversation without the ability to respond, but there are times when not having words is appropriate.

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I prefer that a person listens before commenting. If people try to hear and understand what someone is going through, finding the “right” words is unnecessary.

When a person is disclosing a diagnosis, maybe they simply need the space to share without expecting an answer. The act of being fully present and listening is sometimes exactly what a person needs. However, stopping long enough to listen is not an easy task. With busy schedules, families, activities, and work, most people are not very good at being still.

Hearing the news of a medical diagnosis often pushes people to uncomfortable places. Some people never get sick or even go to the doctor’s office, so they may not understand what life looks like for someone who is ill. It is complicated when a person has a chronic or rare condition.

But instead of being uncomfortable, consider a different approach.

If someone talks about their (or their child’s) illness, consider it a special moment. They are vulnerable. It could be the first time they are sharing their plight. Acknowledge it is a sacred moment, and be grateful and humbled to be the one listening.

Be honest after hearing their story. They may not be seeking answers, but let them know of your limited knowledge. Reassure them that they have a friend who is ready to listen and walk the journey by their side.

Make sure they know their conversation is confidential. The intimate details of a diagnosis should be kept in confidence. Be their advocate. Learn as much as possible about their condition. Going the extra mile to gather information is a way to show care and compassion so that future conversations may be more helpful for all involved.

Being empathetic is critical. Feeling pity for those with a chronic or rare condition is never helpful. Instead, simply listening to a person talk about their illness can help them move toward acceptance.

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Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.

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