What is meant by the phrase "Given x months to live" ? It is invariably followed by something along the lines of " But he proved the doctors wrong and lived another 25 years." There must be a lot of doctors who should be given the sack either for being useless at medicine, or having a terrible bedside manner. I really can't believe that a doctor would say to someone " I give you 7 months to live; not a day more not a day less." I have not been in a position to witness such a discussion, and these discussions are rarely publicised. I can believe that a doctor might say " You are UNLIKELY to live for MORE THAN another 7 months. But even then, to say the doctor " gives you 7 months" without the finer detail would seem incorrect. PLEASE HELP. Jon B

  • Welcome to EL&U. This is not a community to decide what is right and what is wrong. If you are asking about "given x months to live" in terms of its meaning and grammatical correctness, please edit your question. – user140086 Nov 18 '15 at 17:56
  • 1
    It would be very unusual for a doctor in the US to say "I give you 7 months to live", or words of that nature. What might happen is that someone (probably not the doctor but a "counselor" of some sort) might say "On average, people with your condition live 7 months", but even that is doubtful. However, it's not at all unusual for someone to report that "The doctors gave me 7 months to live", rephrasing and "embellishing" what they heard. You can't control what people say in such circumstances. – Hot Licks Nov 18 '15 at 19:16

Your doctor is saying "Look, I can't promise that you'll survive more that seven months, so if you want one last trip to see your grandkids - don't put it off. If you need to get your finances / legal affairs in order - don't wait." But you don't hear a doctor saying "you WILL be dead in seven months". They will say, instead, that "most people in your condition survive at least 7 more months", or "the average expectancy based on statistics are that people at this stage of your condition live for 7 months". And the full detail of the discussion is rarely brought up because patients don't usually give transcripts of their conversations with doctors, and doctor's can't give details at all due to confidentiality.

"I give you 7 months to live; not a day more not a day less." ? Never hear that! Well, unless you're on death row and that's your execution date....

  • Doctors have/had given him seven months to live is a well-known idiom, but a particularly unfortunate one in my view. What would be wrong with saying Doctors have estimated that he/she might live another seven months, but nothing can be certain – WS2 Nov 18 '15 at 18:43
  • I agree that it is an unfortunate way things are put. Almost as if it were some gift bestowed by the doctor. I've always assumed it was a derivative of "I've got seven months to live", but ascribed to the doctor's expert opinion. – Michael Broughton Nov 18 '15 at 18:45
  • Yes, this is almost certainly a case of putting the patient's words in the doctor's mouth. – Hot Licks Nov 18 '15 at 19:18

Communication between professionals, who have their own terminologies and their own ways of thinking about their fields, and laymen, who usually have a much more vague understanding (and lack either the time or the resources to acquire a professional level of understanding), is frequently difficult; laymen frequently prefer a simple message, and when the professional can't provide one, laymen often have no choice but to come up with their own.

I'm most familiar with this from my own field (software/computers), but to take another medical example: a surgeon friend gets annoyed when people say things like, "The doctors wanted to do surgery, but […]", because — as she explains it — doctors never really "want" to do surgery. They propose an option, and lay out the known risks and expected benefits, and often make a recommendation; but afterward, patients remember only the simple message that "the doctor wanted to do surgery".

Similarly, I'm sure that doctors don't say, "you have six months to live"; however, prognosis (predicting likely outcomes) is considered an important part of medicine, since it helps both patients and medical professionals to make informed decisions about treatment (and other aspects of their lives). If a patient is told that the majority of people in her condition die within six months, she could well be excused for summarizing that as "they gave me six months to live".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.