People in public have medical crises.
So do people in private.
Immediately, other people begin offering explanations, or anecdotes from their own experience. Then, as a little more information is released, words minimize or amplify the seriousness of the crisis.
On the same day, I watched a person at work receiving chest compressions and I watched video of a person in a football game who, behind a wall of people, was receiving chest compressions.
Both emerged with pulses. Both were in critical condition.
One was the center of international attention. One was the center of four or five people.
As a hospital chaplain and as a communication scholar, I need to reflect a bit for myself on the information chaos in those moments.
1. The event has, at its center, a person. And that person has loved ones. Regardless of the person’s platform, the person matters.
2. The relationships within the person and between the person and loved ones are complicated. And will shape what medical care people want for themselves and for those they care about.
3. For the medical team, understanding a medical event takes time. So does assessing next steps and likely outcomes. There are familiar situations and common treatments. And there are complicated human bodies.
4. Medical professionals describe events and actions in ways that 1) simplify complexity, 3) complicate simplicity, 3) undercommit to positive outcomes, 4) overcommit to positive outcomes, 5) differ from expert to expert, 6) differ from case to case, 7) reflect humans trying to offer something in really hard moments.
5. All of us, personally and professionally, look for information that will help us make sense for ourselves. (Life is short. That person is my age. I need to rebuild some relationships. I could do more to make a difference. I’m glad I’ve made better choices than they have.)
6. All of us, personally and professionally, share information that will advance our perspective. (Life is short, so do or believe these things. See, “they” are trying to kill us.) (And I appreciate the irony of writing these words).
In short, there is so much complexity in motive and messaging that it’s essential to take a breath and say, “what is really going on”.
When talking with a family member, I listen and then slowly explain what we do know and what we don’t know. I often listen as they talk to others to find out what they do and don’t understand. And then provide clarification that focuses on what is happening in this situation with this person.
As I write this, I’m not sure what will happen in either of the CPR situations I saw. I know that in each, there are humans who are involved in difficult conversations.
Most of us aren’t in either of them. But we will be in our own situations, wanting quick answers.
I understand. And I hope that someone who can help you understand will be close by. Because these moments are hard.
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