‘Choice’ is all you have, all you have ever had, and all you will ever have. We might say it is the one constant in our lives, the one thing that never changes, and the one thing we can be certain of. We always have a choice.’
“No”, I said to my father, certain I could prove him wrong.
“Sure it is”, he patiently replied. “You always have a choice, regardless of the circumstance.”
I was still certain I was right, so reminded him of what we had been discussing about my homework.
“My teacher said we (meaning all my classmates) had to complete our assignment or we would fail History.”
“So you can either complete the homework or not”, replied my always patient parent.
“But, if I don’t do it, I’ll fail”, I persisted.
My father then, patiently and clearly gave me one of my earliest spiritual lessons in my life. I was a very young teenager, in Junior High school, but I knew he had won, and it would behoove me to pay close attention to him.
“We all have choices”, he continued. “That is what ‘free will’ is all about. We choose what we will eat, we choose what clothes we will wear, we choose the religion we prefer to follow, or to follow none, and we choose what career we will pursue to get the job we want. On an even more personal level we make our own choices about books to read, movies to watch, sports to participate in or observe and we choose what we are going to do on any given day. I have not begun to name all the areas in which we make choices.”
“Yes, I can see choices in those things, but what about children? They have to do what their parents tell them. They don’t have a choice.”
“Obedience may be what the parents hope for, but there are children who disobey their parents. Do you remember a time when you were quite young, that you told your mother a lie?
I was silent. How did he know? I could feel the guilt and shame whenever I thought about the day. “Yes”, I said. “And I remember what she did to punish me. I have never told a lie since then.”
“Well, I’m glad to know that, but what I’m talking about is ‘choices’. You had the choice to tell the truth, or not. On that particular day, your choice was to tell a lie. I have never said that the choices we make will always be easy or that we will like them. Sometimes the consequences can be very difficult to accept. I am only saying we always have a choice.
“Do you remember the young girl who lived across the street when we lived on Pleasant St. in Jackson, MI? Perhaps you were too young.”
“Oh, yes! I remember. She broke her leg when she fell off the running board of a friend’s car. You took me to the hospital to visit her.”
“Exactly! You do remember. Your mother and I knew her parents. They were very troubled because of the accident. They had talked to their daughter and explained about the dangers of that particular pastime, but the young girl was coaxed by her friends and thought it sounded exciting to ride on the outside of the car. She made a choice, but I’ll guarantee she did not like the choice she made, or rather, the consequences of the choice.”
That was long ago when I was a young girl. Choices continue throughout our lives. Everything we do, say or think about is by choice. Let me give you an example of the most recent choices in my life, and how they have been stepping stones to one of the happiest, most love filled periods I have ever experienced. Many of you know, I have reached an abundance of years, nearly 87 to be exact, and had a serious (so I’ve been told) hemorrhagic stroke three years ago.
The doctor claimed that if I lived I would be a vegetable. Really? What did he know other than a textbook description? He did not know me, had never seen me before, yet he believed he knew all about my prognosis. Fortunately I never heard the depressing news given to my children. In the first place I never thought about naming my disability. When I returned to consciousness I thought only about recovering from a temporary lack of function though I have set no time limits. In no way was I in denial or have I experienced depression. I knew what happened and that I was completely paralyzed on my right side, which was my dominant side, but with time, work and appropriate therapy, I would recover. I might not return to my former active, ‘always on-the-go’ status, but I never visualized myself as a bed-fast invalid.
My choice was not to use words that denoted any negativity. The word ‘stroke’ carries a stigmatizing sense of shame and embarrassment and I felt neither. It is probably because there is so little known about it that those recovering choose to remain hidden, or the family chooses to hide them. Those, of course, are their choices. Within two weeks I began to teach the left side of my body to take over responsibilities formerly accomplished by the right side.
Soon I learned that reference to all of us in the ‘Rehab’ hospital was that we were “stroke victims”, and I refused to accept the term for any self-identification. I thought only of ‘stroke survivors’, or ‘stroke recovery’. As the days passed I concentrated on whatever I could do to improve my condition and return to some degree of function. With a background in medicine and therapy, I thought about what was needed to achieve movement of my extremities. Within my first year of recovery I began to use the Internet to find anything and everything I could that might help. Those were my choices. I not only thought and said I wanted to get better, I chose to do something about it.
I mentioned that little is understood about strokes, particularly how to treat the condition. I was provided with what the doctors and physical therapists believed were appropriate therapy programs. Within days I could see they did not have a clue about how to provide the therapy needed. I made a drastic choice. I chose to abandon my doctor’s demands, and the therapist’s inadequate and useless suggestions, and made my own choice of therapy. I never regretted my choice. However, my choices did not stop there. In addition I chose to work at home between therapy sessions.
I joined a state-wide organization for stroke survivors and soon met people who had a stroke 7, 12, and more than 20 years ago, yet still they have no use of their extremities. They have not yet received the appropriate therapy, nor have they done anything at home to help themselves. They have made their choices just as I have made mine. I have met a few doctors in my life-time who believe we know our bodies better than anyone else. We know what works, or doesn’t work for us. Textbooks state only what has been discovered in laboratories or ‘controlled’ surveys, but we are individuals with differences and those resources might not be effective for all of us. We have a responsibility to acquaint ourselves with our bodies first and then make our own choice. We then are responsible for the choice we make and if it is not what we desire our choice then is how we decide to respond physically, mentally and emotionally. As my father said, the choice is always there, and always ours to make.
– Rowena Nichols, Columnist ‘Row’
Rowena Nichols, RN, Dr. MMT, PTA. Registered Nurse with BS in Nursing, Dr. of Medical Massage Therapy, and Physical Therapy Assistant(Certification). Beyond the use of her mass credentials, she has had a “full and rewarding life,” including living and teaching in Chile and returning to nursing at age 80. Currently, she is writing articles for several Newsletters and magazines, including problem solving for tutors of English at a Literacy organization in New Mexico.