Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

"Are You Lost or Something?"

By Margaret R. McLean, Ph.D.,

There is a story about Paul Newman which appeared in the Yale-New Haven Hospital Magazine. With profits from his food company, Paul Newman constructed a camp for critically ill children. One day, Newman was sitting at a table with a camper who asked him who he was. The actor picked up a carton of "Newman's Own" lemonade and showed the boy his picture prominently displayed on the waxy container. "This is me," Newman replied. The camper with eyes as big as saucers asked, "Are you lost or something?"

When we enter the white world of the hospital, we often feel "lost or something." We are surrounded by the unfamiliar--hallways which lead we know not where, machines hissing and winking and blinking at us, new faces speaking the language of medicine--words and initials which sound strange to our ears. And, we are lost in seemingly endless maze of decisions, some easy, some literally life and death. Through it all we pray that someone will hear us say, "Hey, this is me!"

As we struggle with hard decisions, our virtues--our honesty, compassion, loyalty, trustworthiness--are important indicators of who we are as patients and as health care providers. Our virtues help us to remember who we are, to remember that who we are can be as important as what we do. Who we are as health care providers--honest, trustworthy, compassionate; who we are as patients--sincere, courageous, truthful--can serve as a moral compass when we find ourselves "lost or something." Just knowing that the relationship between patients and staff at O'Connor is built on a foundation of trust can ease our travel down unfamiliar hallways. Just knowing that patient wishes are heard with compassionate ears and hearts can ease our way through difficult conversations and troubling decisions.

A version of this article appeared in the Spring 1996 edition of the O'Connor Health News, a publication of O'Connor Hospital, San Jose, California.
Copyright 1996 Margaret R. McLean, Ph.D.

Margaret R. McLean is the director of The Applied Ethics Center at O'Connor and director of Health Care Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

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