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How to Deal with a Medical Crisis

Medical experts answer more than two dozen key questions—about second opinions, clinical trials, the limitations of insurance, and other significant topics—to help patients map a road to recovery

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Everyone’s life crashes into a serious illness sooner or later. Maybe it happens to you, maybe your spouse, or maybe someone else close to you, but no one is immune. Fear and uncertainty arrive at the moment of diagnosis, weighing down patients with an overwhelming question: What do I do next?

This article is meant to guide patients and their loved ones and friends through the frightening maze of questions, choices, and challenges following the diagnosis of a serious illness. Several of the points made here refer specifically to cancer, but most of the information applies to all major illnesses.

To put this together, we’ve collected advice from doctors, social workers, insurance experts, psychiatrists, and lawyers—and from personal experiences, including my own. Before we were married, my wife battled Hodgkin’s disease twice, through chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem-cell transplant. We’re now in our fourth year of happy, healthy marriage.

 

Use the links below to jump to the answer to the medical question.

1. What do I do first?

2. Who am I going to be dealing with?

3. Should I always get a second opinion?

4. Should I seek an opinion from a doctor who specializes in my disease?

5. What if the first and second opinions disagree? Should I get a third? Where does it stop?

6. Will my insurance cover a second opinion?

7. How do I find a doctor for a second opinion—or for a first opinion, for that matter? And how do I know if a doctor is a good doctor?

8. Is it worth getting an opinion from a well-known doctor at a hospital outside of Chicago?

9. What is a clinical trial? How do I get into one?

10. What questions should I ask my doctor after diagnosis?

11. How am I going to remember the answers to all these questions?

12. What are some good resources for learning about my disease?

13. I feel like this whole thing is completely out of my control.

14. My whole life seems so different now. How can I tell if the way I’m reacting to this crisis is healthy?

15. So my family and I should watch for warning signs that I’m not coping well?

16. Should I update my will? And when should I assign power of attorney to someone?

17. How do I keep people updated as to what’s going on with me?

18. How should I tell my children about my diagnosis?

19. What records should I keep?

20. What should I know about my insurance coverage and how should I find out?

21. How can I find out how much treatment will cost and what I personally will need to pay?

22. What resources are there for financial support?

23. My problem isn’t really with paying the bills. It’s with the flood of logistical problems that accompany illness. What should I do about them?

24. What’s going to happen with my job? And what legal protections do I have as an employee?

25. What do I do if I have to leave my job?

26. How should I tackle the insurance bills that arrive?

27. What should I expect during follow-up care?

 

illustrations: Harry Campbell

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