The enormity of Mother Nature raged through America in 2017. Hurricanes plummeted through Texas, then Florida, then Puerto Rico. And as we held our breath and watched the movement, we were fixated on the probable track of the center. The tracking cone only provided us a glimpse at forecasting. Who might be safe and who might be crushed.

As we were all glued to the television, this “cone of uncertainty” resonated in my head. There was something symbolic about the center and the span of possibilities. This reminded me of patients I’ve worked with. When faced with a significant illness, the cone of uncertainty looms large with all its unknowns. There the patient stands, trembling from the threat and the unending “what ifs.”

Sometimes, the patient travels the path exactly as forecasted. The course is predictable and treatable with standard protocols. Other times, the cone widens and encompasses all the unexpected.

Our healthcare is similar to a hurricane. Not only are there unexpected outcomes but you rarely know at the start what you will be left dealing with when the storm is passed. Options abound and predictions only go so far. Where will you be when all is settled?

The starting gate is just that: the start. Acknowledging the existence of the cone of uncertainty can be a benefit in managing expectations. No one person responds the same as the next. Medical care is frequently trial and error. A treatment or medication is prescribed and then amended, based on the individual patient’s response.

I’ve witnessed the emotional drain of this ambiguity over and over again. And been saddened by the emotional depletion. But, to expect guarantees is to sign up for disappointment. You can hope for a crystal ball of certainty but as we all know: hope is not a plan.

Bear with the cone of uncertainty and conserve your energy for your medical care. Just as with hurricanes, the reality will reveal itself in time.

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