Correspondence |

A Dying Art?: The Doctor’s Letter of Condolence FREE TO VIEW

Ali Musani, MD, FCCP
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Department of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Correspondence to: Ali Musani, MD, FCCP, Department of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 823 Gates, 3400 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104; e-mail: amusani@mail.med.upenn.edu

Chest. 2007;132(5):1718-1719. doi:10.1378/chest.07-1061
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To the Editor:

Frequently, I have a deep desire to communicate to the family of my patient after the passing of their loved one. Some of them had become very close to me over time. Many of them had brought presents for my children and myself, and had sent Christmas and New Years cards, and thank you letters.

I can particularly remember one of my patients who brought my daughter’s first book. He and his wife told me that it was their daughter’s first book and that she loved and cherished it for years. He died at home. His wife sent me a card informing me of his death and thanking me for my help. Needless to say, I did not get that card on time. Their next appointment was not cancelled, and she probably received a reminder call from our office. She took that opportunity to come and visit me in person. Unaware of the fact, I as usual went out in the waiting area and saw her alone (fortunately, I did not call his name). Watching me a little surprised, she asked me if I did not know. I was quite disappointed and a little ashamed that I never got the card she had mailed several weeks previously. We sat in the office, since there was a blocked time of 30 min for them anyway. She showed me their family pictures and shared some of their great memories. It made me feel like I was a family member. I am fully cognoscente of the fact that it is practically impossible to be able to do this with the families of all our deceased patients.

There are several other examples in my brief career when I have felt very close to my patients and their families and had wanted to offer my condolences. But I never knew the right way to do it. I have sometimes called the families of my patient, but I must admit that more often it is the other way around. I have also received letters of thanks and flowers from the families. I can’t tell how many times I have wanted to call them, but there was never a good time in this crazy schedule of mine. I always felt awkward, not sure of what I would say, how would I respond to their grieving on the telephone, and how would I end the call.

Dr. Kane’s article1 gives an insight into how to communicate with the families of our deceased patients. It teaches us how to pay homage to ones who have passed away, and how to console their families in their worst moments. After all, most of us are in this profession for its humanistic value more than anything else.

I now believe that I have another tool in my armamentarium for healing and providing comfort to mankind. I know I can take a few minutes out of my busy schedule every so often to write a brief letter of condolence. As old fashioned as I am, handwriting on the personal letterhead makes it even simpler for me.

I wish we were taught this in medical school or during residency. Even just one lecture would have sufficed. But it’s never too late.

The author has no conflict of interest to disclose.

Kane, GC (2007) A dying art? The doctor’s letter of condolence.Chest131,1245-1247. [PubMed] [CrossRef]




Kane, GC (2007) A dying art? The doctor’s letter of condolence.Chest131,1245-1247. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
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