Life Gives Us Choices (Sometimes)

I recently heard that a former coworker had passed away. The news took me by surprise, as I had not known that she was ill. I was told she had cancer and had made the choice to let it run its course without treatment. Earlier in my career, I probably would have questioned this decision. Why refuse treatment, when it’s available? Why not do everything possible to “beat” the cancer?

I do not know the details of her illness, or at what stage the cancer was diagnosed, but I realize that she made an informed choice and that it was

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Although the hospital where I attended nursing school in the ’60s was large—about 500 beds—the hospital where I got my first job was twice its size. I was intimidated and knew only how to get from the front door to the nursery, where I worked, and from there to the cafeteria.

One evening in my first year there, the charge nurse said, “I got a call from the Staffing Office. They need you to work on Five Center tonight.”

“What’s Five Center?”

“Medical patients.”

“Oh, geez, I don’t know how to care for medical patients,” I responded.

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Hope or Despair, That Is the Question

According to the Bible, Eve bequeathed us freedom of choice once she opted to eat the apple from the forbidden tree. The consequences of her act were severe—exile from the idyllic garden. Robert Frost, one of my favorite poets, reinforces this connection between choices and consequences in his poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Since self-isolating in mid-March, I have thought a great deal about Eve, Frost, and the idea of choosing. While COVID-19 has stripped me of my normal life—teaching, ushering, socializing—it has forced me to make choices about the “new normal” that defines me.

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November More Voices: Choosing

Dear Pulse readers,

Our November More Voices theme is Choosing.

As I write this, two days before Election Day, our nation is about to do some choosing of its own. And like many choices we turn over in our minds, the final outcome will not be 100 percent on either side of the scale.

In health care, decisions need to be made all the time. As a physician, I choose whether or not to recommend a test or treatment. I choose which medication to propose to a patient.

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