102. Case: A Question from Family About Outcomes

You are caring for a patient following a severe stroke. The attending physician has been very clear with the family that it is unlikely that the patient will survive and that, if he does, it will be with very significant impairments. Still, the family takes any movement or facial change as an indication that he is improving. They are praying for his full recovery and today, at the end of your shift, the eldest child asks you when you think her father will be ready to go home.  How will you respond to the question?

Your family has strong faith convictions and a firm belief that “where there is breath, there is hope”.  Your father had a stroke unexpectedly and you found him slumped over when you came home from class.  You feel guilty because you stopped on the way home to get coffee with a friend.  The doctor said that your father’s “prognosis is poor”, but you’ve heard lots of stories about doctors being wrong. You also feel strongly that if you believe that your father will recover this will help to bring it about and that the converse is true, that if you allow yourself to think or talk about your father’s death it could cause it to happen.  So, you ask the doctor when they think your father will be able to come home. How would you respond if the physician says, “I don’t think your father will be able to go home…”?

Discussion Questions:

  • How did your response to the case shift when you read about it from a different perspective?
  • What do you see as the most important values for each person involved in the conversation?
  • What might be some of the undercurrents that influence the direction the conversation takes?
  • What makes this a difficult conversation for each participant?
  • Who else might be involved in having subsequent conversations with the family about care decisions?


Barley, S. 2010. Having the difficult conversations about the end of life. The BMJ 2010; 341, published 16 September 2016 https://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c4862

Lippe, M. 2018. Drawing the line between hope and false expectations. Blogpost, Reflections on Nursing Leadership. Published online 09/19/2018 https://www.reflectionsonnursingleadership.org/features/more-features/Drawing-the-line-between-hope-and-false-expectations

NSHA Library Services: Conversations about serious illness: https://library.nshealth.ca/SeriousIllness/GOC

Welsh, A. 2016. At end of life, doctors and families often differ in expectations. CBC news, published May 17, 2016. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/better-doctor-family-communication-needed-at-end-of-life-study/

Woelk, C.J. 2008. Management of Hope. Can Fam Physician; 2008 Sep. 54(9): 1243-1245 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553443/