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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Op-ed–Ross-Why is ‘negative’ good news and ‘positive’ bad news?

Ross Robinson

Special to The Lake Report

Many of us on our planet speak English. A complex language to be certain, it often forces me to get my thickest book off the shelf.

The Doubleday Roget’s Thesaurus In Dictionary Form, first published in 1977, is informative and fun to consult. Its 804 pages are easy to understand, detailed and creative, providing so many alternatives to most words in our first language.

However, two words commonly used by members of our magnificent medical profession are so well understood they should not cause confusion, angst, tears or momentary panic.

Allow me to paint a word picture: A middle-aged couple sits anxiously in their family doctor’s office. Their sincere primary health care provider enters the room, clad in the customary white lab coat, black stethoscope casually hanging around her neck. Dr. Berti is studying what looks like an X-ray, reading from an attached sheet. “Well, Mr. Potter, we have the results of your MRI, and they are negative.”

Hearts sink, nervous thoughts race through the minds of the couple. Although they had considered the possibility of bad news, these words hit them like a croquet mallet. 

Then, the doctor continues, “So, this negative scan is good news. There was a very slight shadow on the left lung, but nothing to worry about. It’s all good. You can go on that trip to Hawaii.”

In the next office, Dr. McKinnon speaks to an elderly couple. “Mr. and Mrs. Dell, I have the results of your biopsy, and they are positive.”

The patient says, “Great! So we can go on the cemetery tour tonight and I can continue playing Big Hitter tennis with the lads on Monday nights in Memorial Park.” Spirits soar, at this positive result.

The doctor hesitates, then says, “No, we have found a cancerous tumour. This positive result is bad news and we have some big decisions to make.”

Let us throw tradition in the rubbish heap and set an arbitrary date for the medical community to rid the words “positive” and “negative” from their lexicon. Perhaps their use can be recast as, “The negative MRI scans provide some good news” and “The positive biopsy results bring some bad news.”

So, negative is good and positive is bad. I am still flummoxed. Let us all encourage medical schools and regulatory bodies to exorcize these two simple but confusing words, to avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary angst in the medical offices and hospitals of the world.

The World Health Organization and the Ontario College of Physicians could be willing partners in this win/win initiative. Patient-doctor interactions will be shortened and it will be easier to stick to one topic per visit.

Let's keep the language simple, please.

In the Toronto Sun last February, above a picture of Premier Doug Ford smiling with Wiarton Willie, the banner headline on Page 5 read, and I’m not making this up, ‘It’s positively negative.” The story went on to explain the annual Ground Hog Day hoopla and quoted a Liberal party fundraiser who had tweeted that Ford (Frod) should be whacked. There has been no seque, so most readers would have been confused.

Can’t we all just love each other? Let’s all commit to speaking more clearly, being kinder, hugging more, and doing random acts of kindness. It’s simple, and it feels good.

We are so fortunate live in Canada … in 2019

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