Hard Choices

Amish farm for Hard Choices

The pus shot from the boil and instinctively Joseph ducked. Dr. Lanahan nodded and Joseph applied the sterile gauze to the now-open and draining wound. He fastened it securely with surgical tape, smiling briefly into the relieved face of the patient.

Life in a doctor’s office was fascinating. No matter how noxious the ailment, Joseph wanted to see it. No matter how disgusting the clean-up, he was happy to do it. The privilege he’d been granted, shadowing the doctor an hour a day, was expanding his world in ways he’d never dreamed.

“Okay, Joe, one more patient, then your hour is up and you’ve got to scoot back to school,” Dr. Lanahan said. “Now, this next one is tough. Little kid’s got advanced leukemia. Not much I can do for him at this stage, but I see him whenever his folks want to bring him in. We can’t offer much more than moral support.”

The small Amish boy sat on the end of the examining table, his skinny legs dangling. His mother and father stood next to him in their best black clothing, heartbreak written in their faces. Joseph knew what it had taken for them to get there: asking around for a lift from neighbors with cars, arranging for someone to milk the cows, riding at sick-making speed with their child limp in their arms.  Now in intimidating medical surroundings they stood shoulder to shoulder, made brave by love.

Joseph spoke to them in Dutch, and they answered in a grateful torrent of words which he translated for Dr. Lanahan. Doc had some grasp of the dialect and could speak and understand a few words, but nuance got lost along the way. The child leaned against his father’s arm, his eyes tracking the speakers. His face was as white as the paper lining the table.

“So he’s lost a couple of pounds since his last visit,” Dr. Lanahan said, gently stroking the little boy’s head. “Have you changed your mind about pursuing further treatment? Chemotherapy might prolong his life.”

“But it would make him feel even worse, yah?”

“Yes, probably.”

“And then…the end would be the same?”

“Yes, barring a miracle, the course of his disease is too far advanced for remission.” Doc believed in being honest with his patients.

“Then we will follow God’s will for our boy,” the father said with dignity, tears in his eyes.

“Will you allow him to have a blood transfusion? It will make him feel better for a while.”

The parents turned to Joseph.

“I think it would be good,” he said to them in Dutch. He felt the power that his association with the doctor conveyed, and it humbled him to think these grown-ups looked to him for guidance. What must it be like to know yourself worthy of such trust?


“Hey, thanks for translating for that family. They felt more at ease speaking their everyday language. That’s something you could bring to your community, you know, if you were to become a doctor.” Dr. Lanahan didn’t look up; he was shuffling the files on his desk. “See you tomorrow.”

Joseph could recognize seed-planting when he heard it. Still, that seed fell on fertile ground. Practicing medicine was a dream he shared with no one except Patty. Since she was a doctor’s daughter, she understood what that life was like and it held no mystique for her. A doctor was simply a fixer of humans. Her faith that Joseph could do it was matter-of-fact.

Joseph’s work-study semester was coming to an end, and with it his ability to spend an hour of his school day with Dr. Lanahan. So far, his Pop and Mom knew nothing about it. He’d never kept such a big secret from them before, except, he thought guiltily, for his relationship with Patty. Two life-changing secrets were gnawing at his insides. He had one more semester, and then he’d graduate. After that, the future was unclear. He knew it was time to talk to his parents.


Mom cried. “I told you,” she said to Pop through her tears, “I told you he’d change if he finished high school, and now look, his head is filled with nonsense.”

Pop looked sterner than Joseph had ever seen him. “Joe, I can’t allow this. You deceived us by studying with the doctor and courting his daughter without our knowledge. You don’t belong in their world. It’s time for you to come home.”

“I’m sorry, Pop, Mom, I know I did wrong by not telling you. But I think I could help our Amish community if I continued my studies. I could speak to them in Dutch and help them understand medical procedures. Maybe I could learn to be a healer.”

“Only God heals,” Pop thundered. “When I said come home, I meant right now.”

“But I’ve got one more semester until I graduate…” Joseph said.

“You’ve got no more semesters. The horses you hitch to the plow don’t care whether you have a high school diploma or not.”

“I can’t drop out now,” Joseph said, his face and body pulled taut by anguish.

“You will obey me.”

“I…won’t, Pop. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

To be continued next week. 

The story of Joseph is being told in seven blog installments. You can read the previous  posts on  Feb. 11 (The Sojourner), Aug. 26 (No Time for Sergeants), Oct. 7 (Rumspringa), and Dec. 16 (Anatomy).  The story continues on Dec. 30 and Jan. 6. Joseph’s name has been changed and this story is fiction, but it’s based true events.


3 thoughts on “Hard Choices

  1. Oh, Doris, I don’t want this to end no matter how! I’ve grown fond of all of them, even Mom & Pop, so I don’t want anyone unhappy. I’d like for Joseph to somehow crack the door just a bit, demonstrate the real benefit an educated man could bring by also being part of the community. Remember Nickel Mines school? One survivor is still unable to talk or walk, has seizures and be fed through a tube. Another almost died from anorexia; had to go into residential therapy to learn why.. he couldn’t control the shooting, but he could control what he ate. Think of Joseph comforting these parents, answering their questions… and think of Aaron Esh in a hospital where nobody spoke his language.


    I know you understand all this… but I want Mom and Pop to see it as well!


  2. Hang on, Mary, there are two more installments of Joseph’s story. And remember, this is based on actual events. Thanks for your comments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s