The Power of Words


I sometimes wonder if doctors realize how deeply we analyze them when they present a diagnosis. The tone of their voice, their intonation, their facial expression, those are the things that patients remember when they think back on that day. Once a diagnosis has been delivered, the rest of what is said becomes a blur, so there is so much riding on that delivery.

This to me is the key indicator of a good doctor.

This is where I learned that your outlook on life can be directly impacted by the words delivered by your doctor.

Just over 4 years ago, my husband and I sat in front of a neurologist at a leading Toronto hospital where he bluntly stated the facts. He let us know that my husband had developed Multiple Sclerosis.

There was no gentleness in his voice, no work up to the delivery, no facial expression that relayed any sympathy, nothing that indicated that my husband was any different from the thousands of other patients to whom he had delivered this diagnosis. Except in this case, it was different; the diagnosis was being delivered to the love of my life.

We were devastated. My mind immediately filled with thoughts of what our new life would look like. Would my husband be able to work? Would he develop disabilities that would overtake our lives? How would we tell our children? How would our dream of growing old together and my husband golfing in his retirement be impacted?

The diagnosis was followed by the doctor handing us a brochure filled with MS medicines that he suggested we read up on. He then suggested we wait three months, do our research on the various medications and come back to him with our choice. The appointment lasted about 15 minutes in total. This life changing diagnosis and all discussion of it was over in the blink of an eye.

The note on his reception wall clearly stated that if our appointment needed to exceed 15 minutes, then they required us to reschedule an appointment with a different doctor in the clinic. Thankfully, we had JUST made the cut.

We left his office wondering how as laypeople we were supposed to navigate a brochure of MS medications and make the right choice. Was I alone in thinking that this was the doctor’s job? Did this doctor really just dump this life changing news on us and then send us on our way with a brochure?

Fast forward 6 months, and we were coming in to get results of my husbands first MRI. It was our first appointment since the start of his medication which was a twice daily injection that caused him pain and had numerous side effects. We had not even had a chance to sit down and remove our jackets before the doctor blurted out my husbands results. The MRI showed that his number of lesions on his brain had doubled and that the medication was not working. I immediately started to tear up and the genius doctor looked at me and then at my husband and said, “Graeme, I believe I have said something to upset your wife.” This doctor was seriously intuitive.

I remember getting into the car after the appointment in tears (again) and telling my husband that I was sick of the hopelessness this doctor made us feel each time we saw him. I immediately dialed the office of a doctor in New York that had been recommended to me. I was determined to become my husband’s best advocate.

One month later, we were sitting in the office of Dr. Saud Sadiq at the Tisch MS Research Center in New York. We were told to book two appointments, one for a general exam and conversation with the doctor and a second one the following evening so he could review the plan of action with us. We were told not to book a flight home for the following night because Dr. Sadiq would be willing to spend as much time as needed with us to fully talk through the disease and course of action. This was not at all what we were used to.

Dr. Sadiq became our bright light in the nightmare that is Multiple Sclerosis. He became our beacon of hope. Yes, these all seem like corny analogies but they are understatements in terms of the type of doctor he is. He understands the importance of his tone and the delivery of his message. He understands that we aren’t just another case file. He understands that every word he says will be analyzed to death when we leave our appointment.

My husband and I can vividly recall being in his office and bringing up the fact that he had awards lining his walls naming him as the best doctor by more organizations than we could name. Dr. Sadiq explained that those awards, while he was honored to have earned them, allowed him to have a large ego if he chose to, but he was only the best doctor if his patients felt that way and if he could help improve their lives, and possibly cure this disease.

A visit to Dr. Sadiq involves about an hour of banter where he reviews my husbands MRIs and talks to us about new medications and the newest research. He updates us on his progress with his stem cell research, which has just recently received FDA approval for a Phase II trial. He slips in joke after joke in between the heavy conversation. It’s like getting together for coffee with a friend, but he supplies chocolate instead of coffee (my kind of friend!). Without fail, Dr. Sadiq let’s us know that his only job is to ensure that my husband’s condition never gets worse than he is today. That is the dream that we hold on to. That is what requires me to hug Dr. Sadiq while crying at the end of each and every appointment. He has the ability to give us hope for the future and he never fails to deliver.

This is the power that words have. This is how a patient and his family can go from desperation to inspiration.

I’m not naïve, I understand being a doctor in the US is like owning a business. You pay for that doctor’s time. Whereas in Canada, everything is capped with low billing rates and overworked doctors. But how much does it actually cost a doctor to use the short time they may have with a patient to give them a glimmer of hope? Or at the very least make them feel they have your support?

It costs nothing. It takes mere seconds. Yet, it can be life changing.

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Comments (38)

  • Every moment is precious. What a wonderful doctors and a beautiful patient!!!

  • Beautiful story and so true about Doctors! Words are so powerful and can lift our spirits! I hope that you and your family are doing wonderful!
    Thank you for sharing…

    • Thanks Kelly, we are all doing great, glad the diagnosis days are behind us!

  • Thank you for sharing your story! I have anxiety so any doctor’s visit just sends me into a tizzy and if I get a call back, my anxiety shoots through the roof! Your right, I don’t think people understand just how powerful and uplifting words can be. Thanks again for sharing your story!

    Rushell Tuggle
  • Since I have MS I haven’t met that doctor that is giving me hope I give myself hope and my mom too and I tell myself not to give up

    • Thats the right attitude! Definitely never give up! And call the Tisch MS center, they are a ray of hope!

  • I think that communication is everything. It’s all about the delivery of information. I can totally relate to everything you have written here – I think everybody can! With love and understanding – and offering hope and positivity <3

  • Words can build people up or they can break people down:. Im so happy you found a wonderful and caring doctor. Thank you for sharing a honest and heartfelt article.

    • You are so right, words have the power to truly make us or break us. Makes me think twice now when I speak to my team at work even.

  • When my daughter was born she was a heathy and had a cute birth mark on top of her head and as months went by what we thought was a birth mark was not a birth mark it was a hemangioma other words a tumor. luckily it wasn’t cancerous. And I think god everyday for the her doctor! Doctors do so much for us!

    Angie Ash
  • Luckily I haven’t experienced what the writer describes, but I can empathize. I agree that the way things are said is just as important as the content. Non-verbal communication, as well, is so important.

  • I love your post. I see how much Canada’s system leaves to be desired, but people are still people.
    A little compassion goes a long way.

    nicolthepickle (Nicole Graham)
    • Thanks so much Nicole, compassion can be the difference between despair and hope quite frankly.

  • Everyone needs to feel some hope in every situation or diagnosis. A doctor who can not provide that, even if it is just in attitude, is not someone I want in my life!

    Jennifer Ann Wilson
  • Its so sad that the good of any professional are over shadowed by the bad. You never hear of the out of court settlements on docs but its all over the place. Lucky to have found a good doc.

    Jenny Pruett
    • You are right Jenny, and this isn’t to say that there aren’t many more good doctors than bad, its more that we ended up with one of each!

  • What a powerful post. Just seconds. Words are so powerful.

  • we all need encouragement when all seems lost

    Tina M
  • As a nurse, I see it all the time. It is so important to just spend time with patients, and delivery of bad news is everything. Never dash someone’s hope, be their cheerleader. All the best to you and your husband.

    stacey grantham
    • Thanks Stacey and knowing that you are a nurse and that you understand compassion, is (I’m sure) very reassuring for your patients!

  • I love this post and thank you for sharing it.
  • Great post. I actually had a bad doctor telling me false news and found out later it was false so for two weeks i didn’t know what to do. But now i have a better doctor.

    all the best for you two

    Kim O
  • There is an art of how to tell people bad news and some doctors just don’t get it!

  • In it to WIN it! Thank You!!!

    Raymond Stone
  • I definitely agree- bedside manner is very important!

    sarah hirsch
  • It’s great to hear positive stories about doctors. The news is so often filled with the negative.

    Jaclyn Mercer
  • My husband works in the er and always tells me how he puts the extra effort for small children or families because he knows it can be scary and overwhelming. Sometimes it’s just luck if you get a good reason or dr.

    Jodi Armstrong
  • I teared up reading this because I, too, have been lucky enough to come across an M.D. who, unlike the majority, really cares about his patients and has a way of putting them at ease. For some, it’s so hard getting the courage to seek out medical advice in the fiat pave. Doctors really should be taught how to speak to patients in a more thoughtful manner.

    Michelle Johnson
    • I completely agree Michelle (as you could probably guess from the article). So glad you found someone great as well!

  • Beautiful story

    Kristin Henderson
  • Beautiful story. Yes you are correct words are one of the most powerful things in building someone up and tearing them down.

    Debbie Moon
  • words are something that we always remember. it could hurt us for years. people try to say good words to one another and eventually it will spread like wild fire.

    jeannine glen
  • Wonderful story! Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to find a great doctor these days!

    Stephanie O'Day
  • Doctors are overworked, like a lot of people are. It is very important for every human being in whatever job they have to do the best they can at it. I believe that a medical professional should never look at their job as just a paycheck and a business.
    I wish you and your husband all the very best!

    Debbie S.
  • not all doctors are the same i think some care and some don’t

    Diane A
  • Wishing you the best. I can see where some doctor’s may detach to be able to get through each day but there should be a balance. They are trying to help their patients and a little compassion and hope can go a long way.

    Krystle Feathers
  • Truly a great Dr.
    I have a specialist and he is amazing..never tires of answering all of my questions and concern about my illness…everyone should be so blessed as to have an amazing Dr.


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