Today’s columnist, Dr Mary Wren: People do have choices

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I really enjoy being a tutor for medical students as they get to experience consultations with patients in a surgery for the first time and visit people in their homes.

It is fascinating to see what their first impressions are.

This week one of the students commented on a lady who had a list of ailments.

She spent a long time describing how awful everything was.

The GP then explained several possibilities for help, but the lady appeared not to listen or be interested.

Instead she continued to say how awful life was and how bad she felt.

In contrast I saw an elderly lady recently, who was over 100 years old.

She lived on her own, liked watching sport on television, loved to walk and socialise and defined herself as “a dancer”, even though the medical problem she had was serious and disabling and required admission to hospital.

Even though she was restricted and feeling ill, she defined herself by what she could do, or remembered doing, rather than what she couldn’t do.

It made me wonder whether the physical health problems we have are purely a pot luck thing, or is there an effect from what we choose to think about and say.

I wonder if that lady was over 100 partly because she chose to embrace life and choose to see the good.

I may not be able to choose my circumstances. I may be born with a disability or an illness, or I may have an accident or an illness that causes pain.

I can’t always change the situation or the people around me or the medication that I take, but I can choose how I look at things.

I can choose to be grateful for what I have, and say thank you to those around me who help.

I can look for good in the day. I can choose to see myself as separate from my illness and try new things even if they are hard.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a lady who was paralysed from the neck down as a teenager in 1967 after a diving accident.

She has been a champion for disabled people for many years.

She says: “As a matter of fact, God isn’t asking you to be thankful. He’s asking you to give thanks.

There’s a big difference. One response involves emotions, the other your choices, your decisions about a situation, your intent, your ‘step of faith’.

Maybe we would do well to choose differently sometimes.