That moment when you realize:
1) The mentor who hired you died of cancer almost fourteen years ago.
2) One of his final goals was to keep officially working at the mental health center until he had exactly twenty years’ service in.
3) You have just surpassed twenty years’ service at the same center.
4) You desperately want to put in twenty more, not just for yourself, but to make him proud. 

That awful, wonderful, special moment.

Destiny or fate is a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual. It is a concept based on the belief that there is a fixed natural order to the cosmos. (Wikipedia)


I’m not so sure I believe in fate. 

I posted the status above on Facebook on September 23rd.

I was walking out the back entrance of the mental health center that day, needing to get out and get some air as well as some dinner, when I spied the portrait of my old boss and mentor Dr. Henry Chou on the wall by the entrance to the boardroom. The portrait had been hung there as Henry was honored at the end of his life by naming the boardroom after him. I stopped just a few seconds, as I often do when leaving the building by that route, and just looked at him for a minute. He smiled. I smiled. I remembered. Just a few seconds. A recharge, as it were. A small moment of silence in my day, honoring the man who gave me my first mental health center job, setting me on a course that has now spanned twenty years and counting. 

I remember one of the last conversations we had, sitting in his office at the end of the hall. He was by that time very frail and winded all the time. Just walking down the hall caused him significant distress, but he came to the center every once in a while, just to say hello to folks and to check in. He was still officially on the payroll, refusing to give up and call it a day until he had that twenty years under his belt. He had experience. I was young, wet behind the ears in so many ways. He was talking to me about my taking over his job, if I wanted to apply for it. He was encouraging me to do so. He was also, like any good teacher, worried about his pupil’s first solo flight. 

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked me. 

What an odd question, I thought, for a man dying of cancer to ask a young, healthy man like me

“Well, yeah, I mean, why wouldn’t I be?” I stammered, realizing how stupid that sounded before the words had finished echoing off the walls of the now almost empty office. 

He smiled. A knowing smile. A smile that was somehow lighthearted as it groaned under the weight of impending death and the loss of health, status and influence. 

“No, no. I mean, are you going to be able to do this?” he asked.

I don’t know, I thought to myself. I really don’t know

“Of course I will,” I said, sounding a lot more confident than I felt. “Henry, what choice do we have? We have to take care of people. We have to keep going.”

Henry, my friend, mentor and example, died of lung cancer not long after that. 

I applied for the medical director job, got it, and worked in that position for ten years. I then left it four years ago to do telepsychiatry, a much needed change of gears and focus. A break from the tedium of personnel issues, chart reviews, policy writing, CARF certifications, and fielding complaints from patients and staff alike.

Now, I’m going back to it. 

Oh, I won’t stop my telepsychiatry work. Those of you who read me regularly know my love of all things tech. I can’t walk away from cutting edge fun at work. No way.

I will, however, go back to taking a look at the big picture, the systems issues that I have begun to miss, the problem solving that my current clinical position has lacked. I need the challenges, the puzzles, the questions and the daily give and take of a more senior position. 

Yes, Henry, I will be okay.

Yes, I will be able to do this, much more easily than more than a decade ago when I was green and idealistic and hungry. 

I’m not so sure I don’t believe in fate.


9 thoughts on “Fate

  1. Morning Greg:
    Very interesting. Yes, I do believe something else, possibly fate, is in control, because I am not.

    For me, tech is a godsend. My passion in Medicine, spending all my time, poring over books, having a stunted social life, can be explained only by a passionate belief in something.

    john bennett md


  2. One of your best posts ever, Doc, since I’ve been reading. Reading between the lines a little, it seems to me you’re presently at or approaching a turning point in your life, maybe without fully realizing it, beyond the new position (congrats BTW). Perhaps you’re sublimating it for now, but it bubbles up in your thought. Secretly, I’m hoping it’s a segue into teaching, writing, running for office, or tarpon fishing. Could be it’s something else entirely, like falling in love–can’t knock those pheromones and dopamine rushes! I left firefighting more than fifteen years ago, but the best of it (the men I worked with, the “old hands” who guided me, the times we shared) has never left me. The rest–the not so good stuff–has, for the most part, congealed into a fuzzy blur. And right now, I think I may once again be on Cupid’s bulls-eye, for the first time in a long time. We’ll see! I’ll keep you posted, if you’ll do the same.


  3. Aha! Mystery tweets revealed! Yes, you’re clearly called to work at the macro-level of systems which, as we know, are near-completely broken throughout the healthcare industry. Looking forward to reading what you have to say about mucking around with all that.

    As for fate, I long stopped believing in that or serendipity or coincidence. I view it all as the invisible hand of God made visible and grateful that I’ve managed to notice.


  4. Greg,

    This is beautiful. I don’t believe in fate or coincidence. But I do believe we are placed here for a purpose much larger than ourselves. And that things generally come full-circle.

    That’s what has happened with you. Your purpose continues, as you use your God-given gifts & talents, your knowledge & genuine compassion, to better those in need. And usually we also find ourselves coming full-circle, back at the very place we started. Back to our beginning. To the place we loved most. To the place that made us who we are.

    You have come back to that place, and you honor your mentor not only with your words, but with your actions.

    He wouldn’t need to ask the question now, “Are you gonna be ok?”

    He would just be beaming with pride.

    Well done, my friend.



  5. It’s like you implied, change is good. There will be new problems or new spins on old problems. You’ll have changes that stimulate you. Congratulations.


  6. Kurt Vonnegut had a great expression for it: “Dancing lessons from God.” To include all of the above and then some, minus the yellow footprints on the floor.


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