Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

“You will be alright”

Swetha Kannan
Ajman, United Arab Emirates


Doctor shaking both hands with a patient

Photo by Edwintp on PxHere

“Will my daughter be alright?” asked the anxious mother, trying to hold back her tears. A young girl in her early twenties, so petite and frail that her body seemed to be like a sole pearl in a large sea. Her worrisome eyes met mine, screaming the same question—“Will I be alright?”

Never had I expected to get a patient on my first day ever in an actual hospital setting. Elated to spend my fall break doing an observership in a reputed hospital, I went with hopes of interactive learning and great exposure. What slipped my mind was one of the most crucial aspects of this profession, that of breaking bad news to patients. The resident doctor ordered me to take history, and I was asked to translate his findings to the mother.

It was an unusually eerie feeling when the doctor, the mother and I left the patient’s room to have a word outside. The medical student in me didn’t know how it felt to have an actual conversation with the patient’s family. First, the doctor explained to me the scenario and the likely diagnoses at which he had had arrived:

“She most likely has Crohn’s disease. It is causing her increasing abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Crohn’s is the chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract affecting any part starting from the mouth to the anus. Her proximal colon is highly inflamed. Please explain this to her.”

It took me a minute to collect all the medical terms he had let out of his mouth and articulate them in a language an uneducated mother in distress could understand. The mother, as expected, looked clueless. I was sure that she hadn’t understood the entire picture. After holding her breath for quite some time, she asked, “Is it serious?”

I looked at the doctor and expected him to answer.

“It is quite serious. But we have started her medications,” he said. “Tell it to her politely, and do not scare her.”


“She will become fine, right?” she asked again.

The resident doctor proceeded to convince her that this disease has no cure, but can be managed excellently with proper compliance from the patient’s side.

The mother, though convinced with the information she received by now, still had the same question. Her eyes still welled up. She looked right into my eyes and articulated the same words again.

“Will my daughter be alright?”

That was the moment I realized the level of reassurance a patient’s loved one yearns to hear. While providing false hope is a grave mistake, assuring someone that their loved one will definitely become better will prove to be of an immense addition to their willpower and strength to fight—and to have faith in doctors and the process.

For the first time, I didn’t look at the resident doctor for help. I looked back into her blood-red, tired eyes and replied, “She will be alright. Don’t worry. She will be free from the pain soon.”

I noticed a faint, but determined smile on the mother’s face. I knew I had a long way to go in my journey towards becoming a doctor, and I had tons of learning to do. But one thing I was sure that I learned that day was how to be an empathetic and kind doctor, and how to be understanding of another’s situation.



SWETHA KANNAN is a third-year medical student currently residing in the UAE. Born in India, she is an ardent reader, and published a fiction novel published when she was 18. Alongside a focus on academics, she is interested in music and martial arts. She strives to become a cardiologist one day and is preparing for her licensing exam in the US.


Submitted for the 2022–23 Medical Student Essay Contest

Winter 2023  |  Sections  |  Doctors, Patients, & Diseases

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