Posts tagged ‘medicine’

Do You Believe in Miracles?

They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.  Psalm 78:11

What is a miracle? If I can explain an event, a cure, a phenomenon, is it still a miracle? I have always been a skeptic, but during medical school I seriously questioned the entire concept of miracles. Over time, I lost my sense of wonder and amazement. After all, there was nothing mankind could not categorize, explain, or control given enough time for adequate research. I came to see miracle cures as inaccurate diagnoses and inexplicable natural phenomena as subjects for future research. In a very real sense, science is the study of miracles. And the more we study, the more we describe, categorize, & understand, the less wonder we have in life. But does it need to be this way? Can we still have a sense of wonder and a recognition of miracles even when we can describe how and why they happen?

I stepped onto the labor and delivery unit to assume call coverage for the night. There was only one patient in labor. I’ll call her Maria. She had been in labor for several hours by the time I arrived. She was in extreme discomfort, had a history of a prior C/Section in Mexico and had no medical records with her. Maria did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish. She did not know what type of uterine incision her doctor in Mexico had made, which was very important for me to know as a vertical uterine incision would increase her risk for uteri rupture. After a complete examination, I determined she needed a Repeat C/Section.

In the OR we delivered the baby without incident, but found a uterine rupture into her left broad ligament that had dissected into her retroperitoneal space. Without describing the pelvic anatomy in detail, let’s just say that Maria’s condition was life-threatening. We began giving her blood transfusions and worked deep into the night trying to stop her bleeding. Hours later, the uterus removed, extensive dissection with cautery and ligation of vessels completed, her bleeding had decreased to a slow ooze. There was nothing else we could do. And so we completed the procedure and took Maria to the recovery room.

In the recovery room, Maria’s vital signs worsened despite continued blood transfusions. I honestly did not know what to do. I knew there was nothing more I could do for her surgically. I went to Maria’s bedside and she looked at me with her eyes piercing into my soul. Her eyes seemed to say, “I am dying. Can you save me?” After lingering with her for several minutes, going through every option in my brain, and feeling helpless, I remembered a new program that had been recently instituted at the hospital. The radiology department had hired an “interventional radiologist.” He had occluded blood vessels supplying blood to cancer tissue. This had always been done in nonemergency cases under very controlled circumstances. He had never done any pelvic procedures, and had never occluded any ruptured vessels. But I called him, nonetheless. He decided to give it a try. It worked!

The next day, I visited Maria. We could only communicate through our eyes, the tone of our voice, and our touch. Her eyes sparkled and said, “Thank you.” She had the biggest smile I had ever seen. And even though I could explain the procedure that had saved Maria’s life, I knew I had witnessed a miracle. When I looked into her eyes, I had a sense of awe and wonder for life. I believe we see miracles all around us every day. The lack of recognizing such events as a smile in the midst of adversity, a laugh in the face of tragedy, a helping hand in a time of helplessness, an encouraging word in the middle of grief and loss constitute miracles that bring life and courage and strength to our inner beings. Yes, I believe in miracles. And I believe they happen every day all around us. Will you allow life to wow you today? What might cause a sense of wonder in your life today? Do you believe in miracles?

The Gift of Self-Awareness

“…On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!'”   Ezekiel 16:5-6

When I received my acceptance letter to Loma Linda University School of Medicine, I felt like I was on top of the world. I had “arrived.” All of my dreams would be fulfilled. And I do mean “my” dreams. My dreams of a large house, a boat, nice cars, and the best clothes money could buy. To be sure, I was also excited to be in a challenging profession where I could make a difference in people’s lives. I truly wanted to help others. I also had (and still do have) a deep passion for learning, being challenged, and solving problems. But the emphasis was on ME – my accomplishments, my hard work, my intellect, my determination.

But I had begun my journey in college being called by God into pastoral ministry. I had studied theology for three years following God’s plan for my life. And then I changed my mind and went for my childhood dream of being a physician. After a year of taking pre-med classes, I received that letter. I was in. Me! I had done it. And just like that, my humility in following God’s call turned to pride in what I had accomplished. Of course, I didn’t see it that way. That’s because earthly success can often cloud our self-awareness – who we are, where we are, and how we got there. Today I believe God has used my medical training as part of my journey in becoming a pastor. But I know what it’s like to have so little self-awareness as to think that I am solely responsible for any accomplishment or success that I have.

Every single one of us come into this world naked, completely vulnerable, and needing others to survive. It takes many years before a human can take care of herself, and perhaps decades before a human can take care of himself!  The fact is, we all need others. We need at least one person in the world to care for us from birth if we are even to survive, let alone thrive. 

As we grow older we become less dependent upon the care of others. We begin learning about the world around us as we go to school and choose how we will take care of ourselves. We finally become independent. And most of us end up just like I did, thinking that wherever we are in life, whatever we are doing, we owe no one but ourselves. We somehow go from being completely dependent on others for survival to thinking that we are dependent on no one for anything. 

In Ezekiel 16, God is speaking to Ezekiel about the kingdom of Judah who has turned away from Him. By this time, the people of Judah had forgotten God as they worshiped gods of their own making. They had completely lost any self-awareness. God might as well be describing us today. He created us to need one another and to support one another. We need other people in our lives for emotional support to feel love, for physical support to be touched by love, for mental support to know love, and for spiritual support to love in return. 

The truth is we all need love and we all seek love. In a very real sense, we are all a product of the love we have experienced in our lives. To the extent that we recognize the essential role love plays in our lives, we will have the self-awareness necessary to accept God’s love and live to fulfill his purpose in our lives. 

Faith and Science

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart…  Ezekiel 11:19

I had a friend in college who became an atheist my freshman year. He was a junior chemistry major desiring to be admitted to medical school. He was taking a challenging course called “P Chem” (Physical Chemistry). But he became more concerned with the metaphysical world as he wrote a 400 page paper for himself on the existence of God that quarter. He would come to my dorm room in the evening and we would discuss the issues of God’s existence into the early morning hours. And though I defended my belief in God, he had an influence on me as I too doubted the very existence of God 5 years later. 

The reason I rejected God is that I wanted to be intellectually honest. I struggled with the idea of being objective and how I could know the truth. I saw science as objectively seeking truth and I didn’t know what to do with faith. So I lived without faith in God for most of my time in medical school and my entire OBGYN residency training. I was so busy that it didn’t make much of a difference in how I lived, or at least I didn’t think so. Not, at least, until I graduated from residency and became a staff physician at the hospital in Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines.

During this time I realized the practice of medicine was not simply the application of science in the lives of human beings. There were nurses, technicians, and other doctors with whom I needed to interact on a personal basis. How I treated them actually affected how we were able to treat the patient and her medical condition. I found that compassion, love, forgiveness, respect, listening, caring, and empathizing were necessary components in the healing process. But these were components of healing that came from faith, not science. This is when I began my journey to understand the role of faith in my life. This is when I realized that such necessary components resided in my heart.

The problem was that I had developed a stony heart. I could make a nurse cry in a heartbeat and feel completely justified in doing so in the name of science. After all, anyone who did not do exactly as I ordered was getting in the way of the healing principles of science. But when the heart of the “healer” is hardened, the “healer” tends to wound the hearts of those around him causing more damage than his application of scientific principles can repair. 

Science makes the world a better place. Science saves lives. Science enhances our existence on this earth and helps us understand how things work. But it is faith that brings love, compassion, justice, and peace into our world and into our lives. Science may make life easier to live, but it is faith that makes life worth living. In Subic Bay I discovered that I could not prove the existence of God. But He proved His existence to me by changing my heart, which is where faith resides.

I still struggle with the remnants of a stony heart. There are too many days when I want my own way and my heart begins to harden. But I can feel it and see it in my interactions with others. And when I give my heart to Him, He always softens it through His Word, through the words of others, through circumstances of life, and through a growing self-awareness that comes as I focus on Him. I have found the heart to be ground zero in the battle for life and healing. I exhort you to put your faith in God. Allow Him to soften it.  But I must warn you that such faith will change your heart and change your life. 

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