What Do You Do with Bad News?

When someone asks you if you want the good news or the bad news first, which do you choose? I prefer the bad news first because then the good news sounds even better. Of course, some days you only get the bad news.

Yesterday, after her neurologist conducted an EMG on her leg, she had only bad news. (An EMG is a test with needles and electricity designed to make mad scientists drool with envy.) The doctor wrote prescriptions for a wheelchair, an MRI of my wife’s lower back, and a brace for her right foot. She told her to get hand controls on her vehicle. “It will not get better. It will grow worse.” Bad news.

What do you do with bad news? There possible responses are too numerous to list, but I’ll share the way I categorize them. You have two basic options. You can 1) whine, complain and choose denial or 2) you accept reality, take care of the problem and get on with life. The first option only enhances the misery of bad news and it explains itself. I’ll not comment further on it.

Accepting reality, taking care of the problem it presents and getting on with life works best. And this really involves three separate steps.

Accept Reality 

One cannot live an authentic life without accepting the reality of his or her existence. My wife is good at this. She cried in the doctor’s office because she understands what the doctor’s prognosis means. One cannot accept reality without being confronted by facts that generate powerful emotions. Loss of ability causes grief. Unlike denial, which is a mind-game one plays to avoid reality, accepting reality can leave you with raw emotions abraded by hard facts.

Take Care of Problems

The second step is to take care of the problems reality presents. Do something to make things better!

One of my roles in our relationship is to do the research and narrow options. Last night I found a company in Michigan that manufactures a hand control we’re going to explore. I called the firm today and chatted with the staff, got 4 phone numbers of authorized installers within 100 miles of where we live and then I started calling them. I know what the hardware and installation will cost and how many hours of training three of the four installers provide. (Important note: The prices vary enough among the 4 authorized installers that it was well worth my time getting a list of installers instead of using the nearest.)

In addition, I called the Office of Motor Vehicles and learned my wife will need a new driver’s license and must take a driving test in the vehicle after the hand controls have been installed. After that she will be restricted to driving vehicles with hand controls. I contacted my insurance agent who is checking with the underwriter to find out if our auto insurance premiums will change.

We explored web sites of wheelchair manufacturers and, frankly, I’m overwhelmed at the different models. I think she’ll want a light weight, folding chair. However, I’ve not found what I’m looking for: a wheelchair super store. I want to find a huge wheelchair store where we can go and she can spend hours picking out the chair that just right for her from a couple hundred models.

I contacted our health insurance company and learned they’ll pay a good bit toward the cost of a nice wheelchair after a $300 deductible is met. They don’t pay for hand controls, though.

While I explored the hardware options, my wife scheduled an MRI of her lower back.

When you get bad news, do what you must do to accommodate it. Only then can you take the third step and get on with life.

Get On with Life!

My wife has already started talking about how much easier life will be in terms of transportation and how nice it will be to head to the mall by herself or with our girls. Her philosophy is, “yes, I got bad news, but we’ll deal with and enjoy the good aspects of life.” And though she was sad about reality, instead of mully-grubbing at home last night, she went out with a good friend to see the musical, “Stomp!” (Thanks, Christy!).

Caregiver Tip: I think I remember reading in a work by Victor Frankl that one’s attitude is the only thing that cannot be taken away. Everyone chooses what they do with bad news. How one responds to bad news either traps you in a molasses of misery or empowers you to get on with life. I recommend accepting reality, taking care of the problems life presents and getting on with life.

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