It is hard to say you are sorry. Many of us struggle to find the best way to say we are sorry when something happens in our lives.  Some people lose years of their lives being estranged from a friend or family member because they don’t know how to say they are sorry.  For some, saying you are sorry can be life-changing for both parties, so why is it so hard, especially in the area of healthcare.

I have been thinking about apologies lately and wondered why no one ever apologized to me when it was learned that during week 5 of my chemotherapy treatment, I sustained bilateral foot drop and neuropathy that was attributed to the chemotherapy being used to treat my cancer.

What I have realized from my experience is that as a Brain Tumor cancer survivor, I am fortunate. I realize this and grateful I had a good outcome after being diagnosed with a Central Nervous System Brain Tumor. Yet, despite a good outcome, I have been left with bilateral foot drop and neuropathy. Yes, the chemo saved my life, but it also changed my life and forced me to give up things that were important to me.

I am not writing this post to gain sympathy or have people feel sorry for me, but to use my experience to show how important it is for all of us to realize that saying you are sorry as an integral part of our treatment and the healing process.

Acknowledging a complication occurred, saying you are sorry, that you are going to investigate why this happened and work to prevent this from happening again, is a good way for all (the patient, the family, and the care team) to start the healing process when things happen.

Saying you are sorry acknowledges something went wrong. It shows you have empathy for the person. Taking the time to talk about the problem instead of ignoring it, helps the person adjust and learn ways to improve their circumstances. People are very resilient and do amazing things when given the chance.

Four years later, I have to say I still wonder if I could have done something to prevent what happened. Did I drink enough fluids while I was getting chemo? Could I have moved more to keep my strength up? I don’t know the answers, and because no one ever talked to me about this, leave me wondering ‘what if’. The neuropathy and the foot drop is a constant reminder that something is ‘not normal.’

I am sure many people living with complications from their treatment wonder why did this happen to them?  Up until recently, we (the healthcare team) have not been encouraged to talk about the problems/complications that happen to people. We have been told to be quiet and not address these issues for fear of repercussions. Those with complications are left to wonder what happened, find ways to move forward and live with their new normal the best they can.

As we move toward a more patient-centered healthcare culture, the healthcare team is encouraged to communicate, to be empathic, have positive thoughts and to work with their patients to address the problem and not hide or ignore it.

It is my hope patients and their family members are being empowered to ask the healthcare team what happened – and what is being done to prevent problems from occurring. We also have to help people move forward. Doing these things will help everyone to heal and improve the work we do.

I am really doing well, and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I write this post because I wanted to share my experience with patients, families, and members of the healthcare team to be mindful. I want all members of the healthcare team to realize how powerful saying you are sorry is. It is a way the human way to communicate and foster healing as we and our patients move forward.

The point is not to assign blame, but to acknowledge that the person who has had something happen to them. To be open to what happened and to help them feel cared for and not left alone

Saying you are sorry won’t take the problem away – but it will let the person and their family know your care and that they are not alone. There is a team who will help you cope and move forward.

Thank you for reading Nurse Advocate. Please let me know your thoughts on this topic.

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