Diagnosing Smiling Mighty Jesus

The Smiling Jesus

The Smiling Jesus

Following completion of medical school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock I wanted to continue my training in a large inner-city hospital, preferably located in the South. The teaching hospital associated with the medical school in Little Rock was relatively small in terms of the number of patients treated daily, and I wanted a larger facility with a wider variety of medical problems. Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia fit all of the criteria I had set, and I was thrilled when I received word from them  I had been accepted into their program along with two medical school classmates. With my new title “M.D.,” and a false sense of my own importance to the medical community and the world at large, I set out for Atlanta fully expecting a hero’s welcome at Grady. I quickly discovered I was one of sixty new interns and over one hundred resident physicians training in various medical specialties. Because we all had to wear white uniforms and looked alike I blended into a large crowd of young doctors and immediately lost my unique status.  My humbling process was just beginning.

My first service rotation at Grady (affectionately known locally as “the Gradies”) was on the pediatric service. Part of my responsibility was to work in the out-patient clinic. There were hundreds of sick children treated daily, and they were divided among four to six interns, so the patient load per physician was huge. With my relative inexperience in patient care I was very slow and meticulous in asking the right questions of the mothers concerning their child’s problems. Because of the patient mix at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, many of the mothers had deep southern accents and used terms which were not common medical terms. In my limited medical school experience I had heard most of the commonly used slang terms and was confident in my ability to understand what was said and to communicate appropriately.

On this particular morning I was questioning a mother about her four year old’s past medical history and previous hospitalizations. She said proudly her child had been admitted a year ago to “the Gradies” and had now fully recovered from the problem with no after-effects. I asked her what was the illness for which he was treated, and she said it was “smilin’ mityjesus.” Believing I had misunderstood what she said I asked her to repeat the diagnosis, and she repeated exactly those words; “smilin’ mityjesus.” I told her I needed to consult with one of the senior physicians and quickly excused myself from the exam room. I found a resident physician with several more years of experience, and asked him if he had ever heard of an illness called “smilin’ mityjesus”? “Of course I have, and so have you,” he said. “You were taught all about the illness in med school, how to diagnosis it, how to treat it and what complications to expect. I’m surprised you didn’t immediately recognize what she said,” he teasingly rebuked me. “Please tell me what in the world did her son have?”  He proudly informed me the the diagnosis I couldn’t make that morning was “spinal meningitis!” My learning process took another giant step forward.

In remembering this amusing episode from my past I am more convinced our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ is truly mighty. He is mighty to save and mighty in His love and patience toward us as we are growing more into His image daily. I can only imagine our mighty Jesus smiling broadly watching His children struggle and grow including a young and proud intern beginning to learn how much he doesn’t know and how far he has to go.

Dr. John


6 thoughts on “Diagnosing Smiling Mighty Jesus

  1. I’ve heard this story many times & still love it!
    I’ve absolutely loved reading your blog!
    You & Aunt Cathy remind me of Nanny & Granddaddy in so many ways! & most of these stories I’ve heard in one way or another still move me!
    Even though I know I’ll cry a lot(because these previous ones even made me tear up), I’d love to see some stories about Nanny & Granddaddy!

    much love to you & aunt Cathy,
    & I promise if I ever make my way to Branson I’ll be coming to see y’all!

    • Thanks Emily. You are very special to Cathy and me. As I post more stories, you’ll be reading about the impact your Granddaddy had on me and that both he and your Nanny also had on so many. I hope to be putting these accounts into a book on the ministry of the Moore family in the medical field. Hope to see you soon.
      Uncle John

    • “Looka He’ah Looka He’ah” is in the final editing! I’ve got to write one about Papaw Quick, and maybe one about “Truck and Trailer” although I never operated on either one of them.

  2. I first heard about this over 25 years ago and had wondered about it. I was told by a physician that part of the then-current medical school training was incorporating such terms as used in the community so physicians would understand them. “Smilin to Mighty Jesus” was a term used in the “African American community,” I was told. I wondered whether it was a one time malapropism that somebody latched onto and assumed was commonplace. I had assumed it was either overblown or an outright urban legend.

    I decided to look into it recently and found your post. It’s enlightening because it shows that it was indeed used by certain communities at large. Other accounts on the Internet tend to be of the “guess what this one patient said?” variety. So apparently it’s not so much a misappellation as an alternate name for it. When a term is used by a community at large, it is, by the nature of the way languages work, a correct term. It’s a lexical definition rather than a technical one, and I think that a common problem in professional communities is the failure to understand the need to recognize and accept alternative terminology.

    I once had a nurse complain that a child wasn’t really lethargic because the symptoms didn’t meet the medical definition. But if you look the word up in the dictionary, you would have found a definition that fit perfectly. Even though that definition differed from the medical one, it was indeed a very correct everyday use of the word. Professionals should understand it in that context when parents use it, and rather than holding up their noses and calling the parents ignorant, they need to recognize that the usage is proper. The word dates back to Middle English and wasn’t an invention of the medical community. The medical community may get to decide how terminology is used within its own community, but society at large developed language.

    It’s refreshing when doctors can be humbled by experiences rather than becoming supercilious.

    • Thanks for your comment on the post. Having grown up in a family of doctors I learned a lot of valuable lessons by simply watching and listening to my Dad and brother interact with their patients. They modeled the necessity of communication in order to serve their patients well. It was so much more important to understand and speak in commonly used words than in using formal medical language that was often spoken in order to impress. Prior to my internship I had not lived in a major city like Atlanta and had not been exposed to such a wide variety of cultural influences that were common there. Occasionally I would try to correct the patient in their use of terms but usually spoke with them in the language they understood which made it easier for me to correctly diagnose their problem.

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