“Everyone serves God in one’s own little way; I’m just doing mine this way.” Not every medical doctor might characterize her work this way, but this is how Dr. Nadine St. Arnault (’78), a Denver anesthesiologist, conceives of her own professional stature.
Dr. St. Arnault specializes as an anesthesiologist for a medical group covering five Denver-area medical facilities. She is a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists.
She likes anesthesiology because “it allows me to be kind to people in a tiny way … I come into a case, allay a patient’s concerns about ‘going under,’ administer some drugs, monitor the patient’s progress throughout the surgical procedure, and then I’m done.” Actually, she does a little more than probably most of her peers: “I also pray for my patients and for my procedures at daily Mass every morning.”
As a woman physician, Dr. St. Arnault is proud of the special strengths that women can offer to medicine. “As a general rule — and this is not 100 percent, because there are always many exceptions — women are more attuned to the emotional needs of a patient than men are,” she notes. “Patients are afraid of all sorts of things when they are going asleep for surgery” Will they recover? Will they feel the surgery? — and women can attend to these fears and offer compassion more easily than men. Patients’ needs are not just medical; they are emotional and spiritual, too.”
Yet because her contact with patients is more limited than other physicians, Dr. St. Arnault often must suffer as a silent witness to inappropriate medical care, particularly involving ‘end of life’ issues. While she is greatly disturbed by the ominous push toward euthanasia, she also sees problems in the attitude of many who refuse to “just let people go.” “People get cheated out of an opportunity for healing broken relationships with family members and friends when they are on death’s door and are wheeled out of ICU for yet another round of surgery. It’s not right to be operating on ‘dead people,’” she says. “There’s a time to live and a time to die. Problems often arise when patients or their families, or even some in the medical profession, refuse to face the stark consequences of human mortality.”
As much as medicine and morals mix, Dr. St. Arnault is vigilant about not participating in any morally objectionable surgeries. She will not assist in surgeries for abortion, artificial fertility, sterilization, or sex changes. Flexible scheduling arrangements have allowed her to avoid any conflict.
Dr. St. Arnault had a lifelong desire to go into medicine, but she took a detour due to her love for philosophy. After graduating from the College in 1978, she obtained a master’s in philosophy at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. But she eschewed the prospect of a teaching career and decided to head into medicine “if I was to avoid waitressing the rest of my life.” She took pre-med courses at Indiana University and thereafter entered its medical school. Her talents enabled her to return to her native home of Denver, where she did two years of surgical residency before entering anesthesiology.
But the love of ideas she will always have with her, and she is grateful to the College for having exposed her to “the beautiful, the exquisite — things worth knowing for their own sake.” “Attending the College,” she says, “was like smelling the fragrance of an intellectual garden.… I still delight in thinking about those great ideas.”