”I Just Didn’t Want To Hear Any More Bad News…”

A doctor making a serious expressionGathered in the parking lot of my hometown church, family and friends were “catching up” with each other before leaving the annual “Homecoming” service and dinner.

While in the parking lot, I overheard a conversation between two cousins. One was sharing that she had attended two funerals the day before, and her husband had been ill for several months. Caring for her husband, maintaining a full-time job outside the home, and responding to the needs of her adult children and grandchildren had taken their toll on her physically and emotionally. She also commented that she was experiencing back pain but decided it was only arthritis.

In this cultural context, arthritis is a minor, recurring and mostly annoying pain that is associated with aging. She had recently celebrated her 51st birthday. Her cousin asked if she had gone to see the doctor about the pain in her back, and she replied, “No, I just didn’t want to hear any more bad news.”

Back in Atlanta, I attended a high school basketball game and sat beside the uncle of one of the girls on the dance team that would perform at half time. He knew I worked at CDC and was curious about my work at the agency. I described our focus on eliminating health disparities, and this ultimately led to a conversation about a health issue he was having. He told me that for several months, he had been seeing blood in his stools. He was very concerned, and wondered if it might just be hemorrhoids. I asked if he had gone to see a doctor about this, and he said, “No, I just don’t want to hear any bad news.”

While conducting research several years ago with black men with type 2 diabetes, I was referred to a man who was experiencing multiple symptoms of diabetes but declined to be tested. I asked why he didn’t want to know if he had diabetes, and his response was “it’s not a good time to know.” “Why isn’t it a good time?,” I asked, and he said, “I’m taking care of my elderly parents, the economy isn’t good, and it’s just not a good time to know.”