Social Question

jlm11f's avatar

When an acquaintance reveals a sensitive medical problem to you, how involved should you get?

Asked by jlm11f (12413points) October 20th, 2009

Someone you don’t know that well (like an acquaintance) tells you about their personal medical problem. They are going to get tests done and find out if it is going to be even more severe or not. Is it okay to ask them about it later on? Or should you wait for them to come to you? Also, is asking by email okay or should you wait till you meet them face to face next time?

I don’t want to seem apathetic by not asking them about it since I know what’s going on but I also don’t want to seem nosy (even though I am genuinely concerned). I understand that they willingly mentioned the problem to me but that could have just been a low point in their life and they just wanted to let it out? What’s the etiquette on this anyway?

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18 Answers

Facade's avatar

Maybe just ask them how they’re feeling (kind of like a “how ya doin?” type of thing). If they bring it up, fine; if not, that’s fine too (for them).

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

I had a co-worker tell me about her recent UTI, as well as the fact that her first husband didn’t allow her to breastfeed her kids. (her kids are all grown and moved away now). Truly, I didn’t need to know such sensitive information, and my first reaction was “And why are you telling me this?” but of course, I didn’t say it out loud.

Some things it’s just better to keep to yourself. And for you, I’d just let it go, they might have been looking for a sympathetic ear. I wouldn’t bring it up again unless they do. It might have just been a low point in their life.

augustlan's avatar

I would send an email after the appropriate interval. Say something like: Just wanted to see how you’re doing after your tests.

majorrich's avatar

sometimes it’s much easier to vent off information that is eating at you to complete strangers. Just to get it off your chest. Aside from my therapist who has been doing regression therapy there are some things in my past I have repressed and am working through. Frankly it would be easier to keep these memories in the box and let them go away.

DarkScribe's avatar

If they have raised the issue with you, they might well feel slighted if they thought that you were not sufficiently interested to follow up with them. I would politely ask how things went with the tests.

Jeruba's avatar

If I were in your place, and assuming that I did care about the person and wanted to know, I would wait a bit and then seek the person out when she (or he, but I’ll just say she) could answer privately. I would say something like “I’ve been thinking about you ever since you told me about your health concerns. How are you doing?” and perhaps, depending on what I heard, “Do you think you’ll be facing more treatment?”

I would do it in person so I could read her expression and body language. If she were a co-worker, I would want her to see that I cared enough to walk over to her work area or wherever we had talked before and was not shying away from her. Also I would want to let her responses guide whatever I said next.

I would avoid anything that sounded like an expression of curiosity: “I was just curious, I was just wondering,” etc., and make sure instead that I chose language that expressed interest, concern, and caring.

I would back off if I saw any reticence and instead just say “I wanted you to know I was concerned, and I’m here if you want to talk.”

augustlan's avatar

^^ Go with that. Much better than my idea. :)

PandoraBoxx's avatar

This is where handwritten notes are useful. A nice, “I was thinking of you today, and I hope your medical tests came out well. Wishing you all the best.”

torch81's avatar

While it is certainly the case that sometimes it is easier to “open up” to a relative stranger, the fact remains that the person trusted you enough to confide some fairly sensitive information. The fact that they did this with you, and not with someone closer to them, suggests to me that they do not feel comfortable talking about this with people who are closer to them. If you have an interest in providing any sort of support for this person, you ABSOLUTELY should, because it seems that they need it.

Ideally, you should ask them about their progress/results in a similar situation to the one where you were first told. That space/type of space felt safe for them to discuss their medical condition the first time, it will likely feel safe again. If that isn’t an option, I agree with @PandoraBoxx that a hand written note would be best.

mattbrowne's avatar

This has happened to mean occasionally. I try to figure out who might be the best persons the acquaintance could talk to. I get involved when it’s about friends and relatives.

marinelife's avatar

Being proactive cannot be misconstrued. They can tell you what they feel like sharing.

Waiting can possibly be misconstrued as disinterest.

Judi's avatar

When I am really stressed I sometimes talk to the people who happen to be around me and then forget who I told the story to. Then again, my brain is getting old.
My point is, she may not even remember telling you and probably would have updated you had she remembered. (If she’s an air head like me, of course.)

Jeruba's avatar

I wouldn’t assume from their sharing it with you that they didn’t share it with others. Some folks are going to tell everybody.

Only you can judge from your knowledge of the person whether a face-to-face or arm’s-length approach would be better. She chose face-to-face with you. The main thing is to express your concern and your openness to letting her talk more if you are willing to listen.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I’m not in the “wait a bit” camp. In fact I am all against it. When I went through hard times I was so surprised at where all my support seemed to go. Your friend may have told you because she needs support. The only way to know is to ask and asking is never harmful.

Sending an email would be appropriate if you know she is checking it during her illness. If not then a phone call or home visit would be most appropriate. The easiest thing to do is just say “hey I’m so sorry you are going through this, i want to support you but am unsure how, please tell me what to do or not do”.

This is from experience, not with illness per say but with needing support in hard times. I do however have personal experience with friends who were sick and I took my own advice and never had a bad result yet.

jlm11f's avatar

Thank you all for your input on this situation. I ended up not having to do anything. I was planning on asking him later on tonight but he himself messaged me earlier today and gave me an update so I guess he would have fallen in the “go ahead and ask” camp (which was what I was planning to do). Things aren’t looking too good at the moment, but hopefully with some good medicine and positive thoughts it will get better.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@PnL Is there anyway you can help out or is that not an acquaintance you want to make a friend? Perhaps going over and cleaning house or getting some food delivered, things that are practical can be very helpful.

jlm11f's avatar

@RedPowerLady – I was there for four hours tonight…and I brought ice-cream =)

RedPowerLady's avatar

@PnL Great! I missed that part :) Good friend :)

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