How often do you make difficult decisions amidst chaos?


Today is January 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “How often do you make difficult decisions amidst chaos?" On October 23, 2021, Nadia Popovici kept shifting her eyes from the hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Seattle Kraken to the back of Brian “Red” Hamilton’s neck. Hamilton was the assistant equipment manager for the Canucks and Popovici had noticed a small mole there. By her assessment sitting behind the bench, the mole measured about two centimeters and was irregularly shaped and red-brown in color — possible characteristics of a cancerous mole.


Popovici had learned to spot moles while volunteering at hospitals as a nursing assistant. After debating with herself she turned to her parents and said “I need to tell him” so she typed a message on her phone and waited for the game to end. After waving several times, she finally drew Hamilton’s attention, and placed her phone against the plexiglass. Her message read: “The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!” the message read, with the words “mole,” “cancer” and “doctor” colored bright red. Mr. Hamilton said he looked at the message, rubbed the back of his neck and kept walking, thinking, “Well, that’s weird.”


According to an account published in The New York Times, “After the game, Mr. Hamilton went home and asked his partner if she could spot the mole. She could. He asked the team doctor if it was worrisome. It was. Then after he had it removed, he waited for the biopsy results to see if the fan sitting behind the team’s bench had been right. Indeed, Popovici was correct, and she had just saved his life.” Doctors later told him, it was type-2 malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer that, because it was detected early, could be easily removed, and treated.


To thank the woman who saved his life, Hamilton took to social media to find out who she was. Sure enough, a few hours later the two were united. To thank Popovici for her message the night in October, she received a $10,000 scholarship to medical school from the two hockey teams. In an interview published January 6, 2022, author Ben Fisher asked Popovici “So many people have remarked on your incredible awareness in detecting Brian’s mole amidst so much chaos and excitement. Are you always on high alert when it comes to helping others?”


Popovici’s answer provides important insight for today’s reflection: “As a crisis intervention specialist at a crisis hotline, I am in the unique position in that I am constantly surrounded by stories of tragedy, sadness, and pain (both mental and physical). I often need to be the one making difficult decisions and having hard conversations amongst chaos, a skill that I have built up over time. The energy on that first game night [on Oct. 23] was palpable and things were very much hectic on both the rink and amongst the crowd. Rather than being on high alert throughout the game, I would describe it more as being able to shut everything else out and focus on the decision at hand. My difficult decisions here were 1. Should I trust my split-second observation and believe that this is a concerning mole, 2. How can I bring this up to a stranger in a private and sensitive way, and 3. Should I even be bringing this up in the first place? I thank my job for giving me the skills I needed to finally act upon these questions.”


Reflecting upon that night, Hamilton said “It's about an incredible person taking the time to notice something concerning and then finding a way to point it out during the chaos of a hockey game. Going to great lengths to get my attention from the stands while I did my job on the Canucks bench.” Popovici trusted the skills she had developed over time, made a difficult decision amidst the chaos of a hockey game, and took messaged a complete stranger about something potentially life-threatening. By doing so Popovici demonstrates by example the ability to navigate the chaos by making difficult decisions amidst the chaos.

  • How often are you making difficult decisions and having hard conversations amongst chaos?

  • What are you noticing amidst the chaos?

  • Are you taking the time to notice your surroundings amidst the chaos?

  • How often do you go out of your way to communicate what you feel as though is an important message?

  • What skills do you currently have that could help you make difficult decisions amidst chaos?