On the edge of a change, on the brink,
I might bring a person to think
About why they’re broke,
Or continue to smoke,
If into the cold they must slink
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went for adventures working in out-of-the-way locations. After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took a part-time position with a Community Health Center, where I worked for 3 years. I left last month because of a troubled relationship with the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. Now I’m back from a road trip, working a bit with one of the rural docs, and getting ready for another job in Alaska.
On my way into a drug store to pick up melatonin for my upcoming trip, I saw a young, depressed-looking woman leaning against the brick wall of the adjoining building, smoking a cigarette next to the employee entrance of a health care establishment, and I faced a dilemma.
I could something or I could say nothing.
If I said something, I could say any of the things she’s already heard, but, as her continued tobacco use showed, those things hadn’t dissuaded her. I could point out that the lungs of a smoker beat every other place on earth for radioactivity (including the hospital basement in Chernobyl where the radioactive clothes were dumped and where they remain) except a nuclear power plant; she probably hadn’t heard that. Or I could whip out my calculator and point out how much money she burns a year.
I briefly considered saying nothing, but only briefly. Not speaking out would go against my very identity. Tobacco killed too many members of my family.
Whatever I would say I would have to use a minimum number of words.
I didn’t try to show her the wrongness of her actions. I didn’t ask her, on a scale of one to ten, how ready was she to quit.
I exited the car. “So, how’s that smoking thing working out for you?” I asked.
Her joyless face blossomed into a sardonic smile. “It’s OK,” she said.
I said nothing more. I can hope I made her think about the problem, I can hope I made a difference, I can hope I did the right thing. But I cannot know.
I can regard the irony of a health care worker smoking, and I can wonder about the drama.