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The waiting game

How to cope while waiting for medical test results
 
At any given time there are many Canadians waiting, wondering, wishing or dreading the results of a medical test. People often face heightened anxiety during this period, unsure whether to hope for the best, expect the worst or try to do both.

It is natural to feel anxious while waiting for test results, but there are strategies to help temper those feelings.

Laurie De Oliveira, a Social Worker and Professional Practice Leader at North York General Hospital (NYGH), helps patients and families learn to manage their feelings and emotions during stressful periods.
Laurie De Oliveira, Social Worker and Professional Practice Leader, North York General Hospital
Social Worker and Professional Practice Leader Laurie De Oliveira helps patients and familiesfind coping strategies when dealing with challenging and stressful situations.

Ask your medical team these questions

The first thing she recommends is to gauge your worry by ensuring you have asked your medical team the following questions:
  • Do I understand what test is being done and the reason for doing it?
  • How long will the test results take?
  • How will I find out the results?
  • After I get my results, what happens next?

Having the answers to these questions can help remove some of the unknown, which is usually the primary source of our negative feelings.

“When patients and families sense a lack of control, especially around their health, it can be very upsetting,” says Laurie. “As a Social Worker, I help them identify the things they can control. By focusing their attention and energy on these things, they feel more empowered.”

Focus on the things within your control

When waiting for test results, days can feel like weeks. To combat feelings of helplessness, consider focusing on things within your control:
  • I have the steps to look after my health.
  • I have a good care team.
  • I have my next appointment booked.
  • I know who to call if I have questions.
 Focus on things that are within your control when waiting for test results.
When waiting for test results, shift your thoughts away from “how awful you fear the results will be” to “how would you handle the results if they are not what you had hoped.” Think about the support systems, resources and individuals you can reach out to.

Coping strategies are essential to managing anxiety, which is a typical reaction when there is an overestimation of the problem and the underestimation of one's ability to handle it. Coping is finding the balance between these two states.

Laurie recommends shifting your thoughts away from “how awful you fear the results will be” to “how would you handle the results if they are not what you had hoped.” Think about the support systems, resources and individuals you can reach out to.

Don't forget, your feelings are valid and important. Waiting for test results in any circumstance can be hard, which is why social workers can play such an important role in supporting patients and families through this process. At the core of their practice is working with people to help them understand and solve challenges by breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces.

North York Generalhas 45 social workers across our sites and they are integrated directly into care teams in many of our programs and services to help provide holistic care. NYGH patients and their families have many resources available to them and they are encouraged to call their care team if they are worried or have concerns while they are waiting for test results.
 
June 6, 2018

This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of The Pulse, North York General Hospital's community newsletter. Subscribe to receive 10 issues per year.

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