Pondering Dreams

Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011
Gate Keepers by jparadisi 2011

People who deny themselves the privilege of dreaming are doomed to failure.

Oscar Hammerstein II

I met a twenty-something student who wants to become a doctor. He’s completed a GED and is taking art classes at a community college. For some reason, he enrolled in a science class and became enchanted by the organisms floating on a glass slide he viewed through a microscope. That’s how he decided to become a doctor. He asked for my opinion. Not wishing to throw doubt on the dreams of another, I pondered my response.

His question reminded me of the only writers’ workshop I’ve ever attended. Introductions were made around the library table where we gathered. At my turn, I introduced myself as an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse. The eye rolling, and general lack of enthusiasm expressed by the group clearly implied my dream was ridiculous. During lunch break, a fellow participant actually told me, “You know, it takes an MFA to become either an artist or a writer.”

There’s a saying in poker: If you look around the table and can’t tell who the rube is, it’s probably you. At this table, surrounded by other wannabe writers, I was the rube.

A few weeks later, despite the dissuasion of the workshop participants, I submitted two stories, “Voyagers” and “Icarus Again,” to the publisher of an anthology of nurse stories. Both were published. Encouraged by kindly, professional editors, my writing and artwork have been published nationally many times since. My first art exhibition, fresh out of art school, was favorably reviewed by a local art critic, which is more difficult to do than it sounds.

I am an artist and writer developing a body of work from my experiences as a registered nurse.

So there.

I think about this a lot when hooking up chemotherapy infusions to patients with advanced, metastatic cancers. Their prognosis is terrible. Though it’s impossible to know what I’d choose unless actually facing similar circumstances, sometimes I think I’d choose sitting on a tropical beach staring at the ocean until the end, and not spend my last few weeks or months in an oncology clinic fighting the odds. That’s when I remind myself that any patient perhaps belongs to that small statistic of people who survive or go into remission, allowing them one more birthday, one more Christmas celebration, a family wedding, or a grandchild’s graduation.

If there is no hope, then why am I an oncology nurse? Have we nurses witnessed so much human crisis that we’ve limited our capacity for dreams? Where lies the division between dreams and realism?

What are your thoughts? Which is the larger transgression: offering overly optimistic hope or being a gatekeeper? How is this idea reconciled with diminishing healthcare resources?



  1. It is so easy to judge ourselves and others, squelching dreams with “shoulds”, “coulds” and other imposed beliefs that limit our ambitions. Hope is the thing with wings, and even a cancer patient with a poor prognosis can have hope–if not for a lengthy extension of life, but for the time it takes to say goodbye and peacefully exit without pain. Thanks for sharing this insightful post.


  2. I am a nurse now working in Long Term Care. Previously I worked in the Community. I remember one poor little soul…probably in her 70, who went for chemo every two weeks or so. I am sure that her nurses asked themselves the same questions. After a session she returned home deathly ill for most of the week.. She was so frail….So very thin. she could barely walk. As she started to recover somewhat, the next chemo date was only a few days away, How I wanted to beg her not to go. Of course I didn’t. I wish I could have. She died shortly after a chemo treatment.

    Now I am working with another dilemma. In our Nursing Home there are three levels of care. Full intervention means CPR. So many families choose this option. One gentleman has end stage cardiac disease. This is the level of care he has chosen.

    When will we become comfortable with death? Will we ever?


  3. Very thought provoking and well written! I am an oncology nurse myself and share similar thoughts as yours!


  4. This post reminds me of a book that I read on the topic of hope. It’s called The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman. A valuable read for those suffering with illness or injury and those in the medical profession.


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