1758) Meeting the Great Physician (part one of two)

A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician

From “A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician,” by Kathryn Butler, February 17, 2017 in Christianity Today magazine, posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com .  Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon.  Her book on end-of-life medical care through a Christian lens is anticipated in 2019 (Crossway).  She writes at Oceans Rise.

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     My eyes darted to the tracing on the cardiac monitor.  The gaps between my patient’s heartbeats lengthened.  The plodding rhythm meant that blood, oozing from beneath his fractured skull, was crowding out his brain.

     He was 22, and someone had bludgeoned him with a baseball bat in his sleep.  His wife, lying beside him, died during the assault.  His four-year-old son witnessed everything.

     I thrived on the urgency of the emergency room— the chaos, the opportunities to reach people in dire moments.  Yet as I placed my patient’s central venous line, I struggled to focus.  I thought of his four-year-old son in footed pajamas, and the images of brutality he might never forget.

     As I wrestled with these thoughts, paramedics rushed in with a 15-year-old boy dying from a gunshot wound.  They were performing compressions to force oxygen-rich blood to his brain.  In a blur of adrenaline, I grasped a scalpel and surgically explored his chest.  I cupped his still heart and searched its borders with trembling fingers.  When my hand plunged into a yawning hole, I caught my breath.  The bullet had torn open his aorta.  We could not save him.

     As I fought tears, my trauma pager blared yet again.  Another 15-year-old boy.  Another gunshot wound.  This time, the bullet had struck the boy’s head.

     I tried to compose myself.  The least I could do, I thought, was to mend his wound, clean him, and give his family a final glimpse of the boy they loved.

     Midway through my work, the door opened.  I raised my eyes in time to see his mother walk into the room.  She froze, howled, and crumpled to the floor.  I tugged the bloodied gloves from my hands, rushed from the room, and hid my face as I cried.

     The next morning, as I finished my shift, I wandered about as if lost.  I despaired over how little life mattered to people.  Each of my patients had suffered at the hand of someone who looked at him and saw no worth.  How could God allow such evil?

     I had grown up as a nominal Christian.  My family observed certain Christian traditions, but we never read the Bible or talked about the gospel together.  I understood Christianity to be synonymous with good behavior.

     After work, I drove for hours.  A hundred miles from my home, I parked at a bridge that spanned the Connecticut River.  Mountains flanked the bridge, and the October sun set the horizon afire in jewel tones.  Below me, the river shone like polished metal.

     I gripped the guardrail, tipped my face against the wind, breathed, and felt . . . nothing.  I parted my lips to pray, but no words came.

     I felt cut off from God.  I thought the Lord—if he even existed—had abandoned me.

     Thereafter, I fell into agnosticism.  Doubt led to hopelessness, and hopelessness to despair.  I dreamed of an eternal sleep, of numbness, of annihilation.  Thoughts of taking my own life troubled me daily.  I fought the impulse to return to the bridge over the Connecticut River and hurl myself over the railing.  Only love for my husband, Scottie, brought me home each evening.

     Months later, Scottie lost his job.  While I struggled with the problem of evil, he sought the church, understood the Word for the first time, and accepted Christ as his Savior.  Scottie invited me to join him in worship, but I remained disillusioned.  When I finally attended church to appease him, the sanctuary, the singing, and the ceremony seemed awkward and foreign.  He would bow his head in prayer, and I would stare ahead with my thoughts cast outside the church walls, my gaze defiant.  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 4:2-3  —  I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.  But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.

Psalm 35:22  —  Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.  Do not be far from me, Lord.

Psalm 71:12  —  Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me.

Job 11:11b  —   When He sees evil, does he not take note?

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My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

–Psalm 22:1 and Matthew 27:46