Thursday, April 21, 2011


"I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious."      -Albert Einstein


The eternal question of all humanity can be whittled down to one three letter word. Why? We add all sorts of things in front of it...

1.Why can't I eat all of the M&M's and get on the loop the loop roller coaster?
2. Why do I have to wear underwear?
3.Why can't I have sex before marriage?
4. Why can't I have a pony?
5. Why does his family get to take a neat vacation and we are staying home and going to the zoo again this year?

Now of course if you are a parent the why is almost always followed by,"How come? When? Where? Why not? What if?

The reality is that these questions never go away...we just get trained to stop asking for fear of being seen as irritating, nosy, pushy or some other less than ideal person. We allow that curious part of our human nature to be stifled by the onslaught of propriety and yet it is the very act of questioning convention that has led to every discovery humankind has ever made.

To be sure there is value in teaching and learning the timing of questions-it's OK to ask why Aunt June doesn't like Uncle Bill anymore-but not very empathetic to do it at the dinner table when they are seated across from one another.
It's OK to ask why your cousin isn't circumcised-let's just wait and discuss that when we are not at his birthday party.

I have struggled with my eldest son over learning the when and where of asking-but as aggravating and embarrassing as some of his questions have been I am still grateful for his curious nature because I believe it can serve him well if he uses it for good, not evil.

I have wondered recently if our society as a whole has become so complacent with bite-sized pieces of information from the internet and television that we no longer expect or look for "all the details."

Where would we be as a species if Galileo had said..."ocean, sky, edge...nah, nevermind."

The Wright brothers,"eh, we can walk"

Madame Curie,"Good lord, get rid of that blue bread!"

It's those souls who have been willing to risk embarrassment that have led humanity out of the Dark Ages and pushed, prodded, and agitated the human race of every generation.

The cure for boredom is curiosity.  There is no cure for curiosity. 
 ~Dorothy Parker

It's also those who were willing to say,"Why?" that have pushed for change in every conflict, every time a dictator has been defeated it was because a group of people were daring enough to say, "Why?"

As science and technology give human beings more opportunities to explore the boundaries of discovery these kinds of questions are even more important to prevent abuse and destruction-not to prevent the discoveries made in labs and experiments around the world but to have a full dialogue about the consequences of science and it's results.

As a nurse one of my greatest frustrations has been watching family members of patients demand all sorts of invasive and difficult treatments for patients who have limited life expectancy with or without the procedures. "Do everything you can." Many times, my experience has been that when we do "everything,"  we leave patients who are already miserable in more distress prior to their deaths and are typically not successful at prolonging their lives. Why?

Because healthcare professionals are scared of being sued, and because in some facilities where interns and residents are learning their craft, they need experience managing complex patient cases. What's most disappointing to me in these moments though is that so many of my colleagues in health care have become so impressed with our ability to use science and technology to prolong life at any means that they have stopped asking whether or not we should.

Asking questions and forcing difficult conversations about end of life and critical care is terrible, difficult work-but the rewards for patients, families, and our overtaxed healthcare system would be immeasurable.

Too many of us allow the world to spin on without every taking the chance to ask,"Why?" That question alone could help change the world, or at least your part of it.

So in the spirit of Why questions here are mine for today:
1. Why would you come to chemotherapy barefoot when you know you are at an increased risk for  infection?
2. Why doesn't the American public care about the mess in the Ivory Coast?
3. Why do people watch WWE?
4. Why would you own a Prius and chain smoke Marlboro Lights in it?

Nothing earth shattering, just a little random thought process. So your mission today is to ask a question you've always wanted the answer to-and ask more than one person. When you get the answer-tell someone else and pass the information along.

"Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why." 
~Bernard Baruch

1 comment:

  1. My question to a fellow oncology RN one day was: "When you see people with lung cancer, why do you continue to smoke?" Her answer stunned me: "We all have to die of something." So, my "why?" question really doesn't have a good answer. (Probably her real answer was something like, "It's too difficult to stop smoking.")

    I enjoy your blog. Keep it up!