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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Waiting for the Future to Arrive

After my husband rolled out of bed and onto the floor–a loud thunk at 3:00 a.m.–time moved quickly. Paramedics. Hospital. Unfolding diagnosis: Looks like a stroke. Definitely a stroke. Massive stroke. Decision: No dooming him to a future without movement or speech, without the ability to appreciate sci-fi and Mozart and spring.

Then the waiting began. His brain took its sweet time to ease into the complete and irreversible loss of function necessary for organ donation. In truth it was only days, but each one felt endless. I sat alone. I sat with family and friends. I walked the hospital hallways, trying

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The Gift of Today

I’ve spent my whole life waiting. Waiting to join my sisters in boarding school. Then, once I was in boarding school, waiting for the Christmas and summer holidays when we could go home. And all through high school, waiting to go to university, which, in my opinion, would be much better.

When I got to university, I was in a six-year program, so graduation seemed very far off—so I studied and waited and studied and waited.

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Waiting Room Questions

“Happy Birthday!” Those were the first words that met my ear today. They came cautiously, spoken almost like a question. A question that was trying to apologize for its very existence. It did not make sense to me then, and it circles my mind now. I was standing then. I find myself sitting now.

I had walked in the building and entered the elevator an hour earlier. “What floor?” I asked the other occupant. “3, please,” came the reply. I was going to 4. They were never going to 4.

“Have you been tested for COVID-19 recently?” the gatekeeper asked.

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Waiting in Darkness, Waiting in Light

January 8, 2016, was a day I shall never forget. I received the news that the issues I was experiencing with my right knee would require a total knee replacement. My primary care physician assured me not to worry: “Everyone has knee replacements.” And so began my period of waiting in darkness. It would last for more than four years.

The first of what would be six procedures was scheduled for two weeks later. Infection set in just four days after my surgery. Oral antibiotics gave me a sense of waiting in light. How wrong I was! Eight weeks of

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Healing Through Waiting


Over more than half a century of delivering primary care, I was privileged to be present at moments of profound sorrow and unspeakable grief. Often, these moments came when communicating about a fatal prognosis during a house call after a death had occurred there—whether unexpected or expected, sudden or after a chronic illness.

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The appointment with Dr. M. was over in record time, and I texted my husband, “On my way!” as I headed downstairs. Getting out was easier than in, what with the hand sanitizer, temperature check and exhaustive list of questions just inside the narrow entrance. The university hospital was a ninety-minute drive, but we didn’t mind. The leaves were turning, and Iowa City has Indian food and a world-class bookstore.

I walked across the courtyard to the parking ramp, peering down the rows of cars. No blue Subaru. My left foot hasn’t worked right since a fracture five years ago,

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Time to See

I’ve been waiting years, so long I don’t even know when it all started. 

I mean I know when I started wearing glasses. I was in first grade, and my teacher took my parents aside. “I think your daughter has a learning disability.” She probably used different words, this was 1968 after all. My parents weren’t convinced and sought out another explanation as to why I was having difficulty in school. Ultimately, they took me to an ophthalmologist who gave them an answer. Within a few months of wearing my new pink princess glasses, I was moved up a grade. 

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Storm Shelter

After his wife died, he changed his mind. “No ventilator,” he told me, shaking his head. “No ventilator.”

And so, I thought, now we wait. He had been prepared to wait for his wife to get better when it was she in the hospital alone. No visitors were allowed, so he talked to her by phone for hours each day, even when neither of them would speak, even when she couldn’t speak; he would listen to her breathing, willing it to ease, to settle into the pattern he knew so well from years by her side.

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