The Elevator Operator

Charity Hospital Elevator

I have already posted the harrowing experience that Cathy and I endured on the night that Hurricane Betsy struck New Orleans. Of all the close-call experiences I had in driving for 58 years, there is not one that even comes close to that 45 minute round trip drive to Charity Hospital on September 9, 1965. With the winds over 80 miles per hour, and driving a small convertible that I was fighting every second just to keep on the road; it was definitely not a trip for the faint- hearted.

I had no choice in making this trip. My sweet, new bride Cathy was alone in our apartment and scared for her life. When I called her from the hospital to check on her, she begged me to come and get her. I had to be in the hospital that night, because I was on surgical call, and we anticipated multiple traumatic injuries from the hurricane. When she called, I told my chief that I had to get Cathy and bring her back to the hospital for her safety, and any emergencies that came in, would just have to wait on my return.

The initial leg of the round trip was scary enough, because I wasn’t sure at any moment whether the wind might blow me off the road, or some flying object might crash through my windshield and kill me instantly. There was no one else driving that I could see, so I didn’t consider stopping for any stoplight that might still be working. I’m not sure how high my pulse rate was during that trip, but would not have been shocked to discover that it was 150 beats per minute. (Normal: 60-80).

I was almost surprised when I arrived safely at our apartment, but ran up the flight of stairs and hugged Cathy, while grabbing her overnight case, and told her to get into the car quickly. The phone rang, and I don’t know why I stopped to answer, but I did. It was Cathy’s Mom from Fort Lauderdale, and she asked, “How are you and Cathy doing with the hurricane?” I quickly responded, “Mom, I can’t talk; I’ve got to take Cathy to the hospital – good bye,” and I hung up. That was the very worst response I could have given, because shortly thereafter the phone service to New Orleans went out, and Cathy’s parents had no idea of the reason for my taking her to the hospital, nor of her present condition. It took me a long time following that to repair that damage to their trust of me.

Our return trip to Charity Hospital was equally frightening, but I was calmer, because we were together, and I felt like we had a chance to make it back. I do remember that we were praying out loud with great fervor. Neither Cathy nor I were believers at the time, but I’m confident that this experience helped us understand in a dramatic way, our fragile condition and our need for a comforting Savior. We made it back to the hospital without injury, but there was still another hurdle that I didn’t anticipate.

Charity Hospital was 20 stories tall, and the first 12 stories comprised the hospital portion, while the next 8 floors were the on-call rooms for the doctors. These were the days of an increased sense of morality, and there was an irrevocable rule that no women were allowed above the 13th floor. The women who were doctors had their rooms on the 13th floor, so above that, there were no women at all allowed. The elevators were not self-service, but were the old fashioned type with a lever, that required an operator. The operators who were hired by the state of Louisiana were all handicapped in some way and most of them were mentally challenged. As we got on the elevator in our rain-drenched clothes, I told the operator to take us to floor 18, where my on-call room was located. Without even looking at us, the operator said, “No women above floor 13.” I said, “Its ok, we are married.” Perhaps he had heard that excuse before, so he again said, “No women above floor 13.” I had him look at our wedding rings to prove our marriage to each other, while I said in a very agitated manner, “Look, we’ve risked our lives driving from Kenner to get here so my wife can spend the night during the hurricane. Please punch floor 18!” For the last time he said, “I’m not taking her to floor 18.” I looked that man in the eye and said to him in a tone he could not misunderstand, “If you don’t push #18 right now, I’m going to kill you!!” We immediately were taken to floor 18 with no more discussion. I had never made such a threat in my life, but was reacting to the whole life-threatening event we had just experienced. Cathy was beginning to wonder just what kind of man she had recently married.

Cathy spent a restless night in that room while I spent most of the night working on trauma victims from the hurricane. She was safe from the storm that raged outside, and that was my goal for the night. She had some interesting experiences in that room  which I will describe in another post. The next morning before the shift change, I found our elevator operator and apologized to him for my angry behavior, and told him that I really would not have killed him. For the next 4 years that I worked at Charity Hospital, I would frequently encounter that operator and joke with him, to try to establish a trust and a friendship. I’m convinced that he never did trust me, and was never quite sure whether or not I could ever get mad enough to kill him! At least we never had to go through another hurricane to test my resolve.

Dr. John

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A Wedding Gift We Didn’t Want

Metairie in Hurricane Betsy

Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic hurricane of the 2005 hurricane season. It struck New Orleans on August 28, resulting in flooding of about 80% of the city, causing untold millions of dollars in damage, and loss of more than 1800 lives. The other major hurricane that hit New Orleans with severe destructive force was Hurricane Betsy which occurred on September 9, 1965. I remember the date and the event well, because Cathy and I were there, and it was a month and 2 days following our wedding.

I began my surgical residency at Charity Hospital on July 1, 1965 following a year of internship in Atlanta, Georgia. I had met and fallen in love with Cathy Young from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She had come to Atlanta in the fall of 1964 to begin her elementary teaching career, and had only been there a few months when a mutual friend introduced us. Following a courtship during that year of my training in Atlanta, we decided to join our lives together in marriage as soon as the events surrounding our lives would allow.

The war in Vietnam was raging, and I had an obligation to fulfill in the US Air Force. I had been commissioned as an officer in the medical corps during medical school, and unless I could get a 4 year deferment, I could not be accepted into the surgical training program that I desired. I applied for that deferment and waited for 4 long months with no answer. We could not set a wedding date until I heard, because we did not want to get married one month, and have me sent to Vietnam the next month. Finally, I heard from the Pentagon that I was deferred for the 4 years; I was accepted into the surgery program at Charity Hospital, and we set a wedding date for one month after I began that program. It was as simple as that! Or so we thought!!

Charity Hospital was a massive 20 story hospital that had been the training center for tens of thousands of doctor and nurses for nearly 250 years. The surgical training was second to none in the country, and I was thrilled to finally begin the 4 year program on the LSU Surgical Service. My chief was allowing me to work the month of July, and take my month-long vacation in August for our wedding and honeymoon. Cathy and I married on August 7, 1965 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where her family lived and where she grew up. Our wedding was perfect in a perfect setting, and we began our life together, so full of big plans for the future.

The honeymoon was certainly not fancy because we were living within our budget which, at best was very meager. We drove toward Arkansas, where we visited my family, and I then took her around the state to see some sights in a state in which she had never travelled. When the month ended, we returned to New Orleans, where she began her elementary teaching position in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, and I returned to work at Charity. We had a beautiful new apartment near her school in Kenner, but it was a 20-25 minute drive for me to the hospital.

In the first week of September, there were advanced warnings about Hurricane Betsy that had formed in the Atlantic Ocean, as it was tracking toward the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Cathy had experience with hurricanes from her life in South Florida, but this was all new to me, and I was very uneasy about it. My unrest bordered on fear when I learned that I was on call at the hospital on the night of September 9, when the hurricane was to make landfall and strike New Orleans.

Cathy had made advanced preparations by filling the tub with water that we might need, if the water supply became contaminated. She had all the windows taped to avoid flying glass, and she seemed very secure in our apartment that was on the second floor. As the evening progressed, I called her every hour to make sure she was safe, and she reassured me that she was fine. When I called her at 8 pm, and the winds were up to 60 miles per hour, I told her I had to be in the operating room for 2 hours, but would call as soon as the surgery was over. When I did call at 10 pm, the winds were now at 80+ miles per hour. Cathy’s voice had changed and her confidence had faded. She said the mayor of Kenner had ordered the evacuation of low lying areas, because of the prospect of severe flooding, and she was now scared and alone. She said, “Would you please come and get me?” I said to myself, “Live or die, I’ve got to get to my new bride, so that no matter what happens, she won’t be alone!” I told her that I would be there right away and not to worry!

When I ran out to the parking lot, I could hardly stand upright because the winds were so strong. My car was a small convertible, which is the worst possible vehicle to be driving in these conditions. In fact there was no one else in New Orleans that I could see, that was driving in these dreadful conditions. This was the most frightened I have ever been. Trees were being bent and snapping; power lines were falling and electric sparks were jumping across the roads. Flying debris had to be dodged as much as possible, and when I would cross an overpass, the winds would catch under the top of my convertible and literally move me over one full lane. I never stopped at any red light that still happened to be working. I was not a Christian then, but I was so scared that I was praying out loud.

When I finally made it to the apartment, I ran up the stairs, hugged Cathy quickly, grabbed her overnight case and we jumped onto the car for the return trip to the hospital. At least now there were two of us praying out loud in the car, and I was not quite as frightened because we were together. I know that I made the round trip in record time, although I wasn’t marking the exact minutes. In all of the trips I made to Charity Hospital over the next 4 years, I don’t recall ever seeing that facility appear to me as a place of personal safety and peace, like it did that night in 1965 on our one month (and two day) wedding anniversary.

Dr. John

“Looka He’ah Looka He’ah”

The Bluford family all lived in South Arkansas, and to the best of my knowledge, never traveled much outside of Union County. There were two generations of Bluford’s that were faithful patients of my dad (Pop), and then switched over to my brother Berry Lee (Bubba), when he joined Pop in their general medical practice. The Bluford’s were, by no means one of the prominent families in El Dorado, but were average, hard-working people who were intensely loyal to the Lord Jesus, to each other, and to their doctors. Usually when you saw a Bluford anywhere in town, another member of the family was close by. I was introduced to most of them at Bubba’s office when I would visit there, even before I became a doctor. There were so many of the Bluford’s, that one of them was likely to be in the office with some complaint on any given day. I was always impressed by their humble and grateful attitude toward the doctors and the staff. One frequently heard all of them say, “Yas suh, No suh, Please and Thank yah!” depending upon the situation or the question. I don’t think I ever met all of the Buford’s, but was closely associated with 4 members of the family; Mittie, Major, Willie and Sister Missionary Ruth Foster (as she was known within the family and her church).

After I returned home to establish a private practice in general surgery, Bubba was an immediate referral source and many of my surgical patients were referred by him. He called me late one afternoon to tell me that he had admitted Mittie Bluford to the ICU at Warner Brown Hospital. She had suffered with severe abdominal pain for 3 or 4 days, and now had nausea and vomiting with an extremely high temperature. Mittie was in her late 60’s, and had been treated for a number of years for hypertension associated with obesity. Bubba suspected gall bladder infection, and needed me to be on stand-by in case the initial medical treatment was ineffective.

When I arrived, there were at least 6 members of the Bluford family in the waiting room, but the only ones that I recognized were Major and Sister Missionary Ruth. She was easily recognizable because in addition to her large size, she always had on a red Afro wig that never seemed to fit quite right. I didn’t know the name of the church in which she was called as a missionary, but it must have been a Pentecostal church, because even in a conversation with her, she would emphasize the things I would say to her by chanting such things as, “Yes, yes, or Thank yah Jesus or Amen, amen!” Her encouragement to my normal conversation almost made me feel like I was preaching, and it always spurred me to say more than I normally would. I’m sure that if I had ever preached in her church, her encouragement alone would have caused me to preach with greater zeal and fire!

Mittie was indeed sick, and her initial tests confirmed gall bladder disease, but we wanted to wait another 24 hours to let the infection subside, if possible. The following day she was getting worse, so the decision was much clearer, and she needed an emergency operation. I told the nurse to call the family together at her bedside, and I would explain to Mittie and to them, what needed to be done. The 4 members of the family that I knew and several others that I assumed were family, gathered around her bed, with Sister Missionary Ruth standing closest to me. I was sure they were all Bluford’s because they had their heads slightly bowed, and none of them had any questions that might indicate the slightest mistrust of me or of Bubba. Even Sister Missionary Ruth had her head turned more toward Mittie than toward me.

I directed my words toward Mittie, so she could understand to the best of her present ability, what was needed. She was very weak and not able to carry on much conversation. The only other voice beside mine, that was heard over the next few minutes was not Mittie’s but was her sister, Missionary Ruth, and she was emphasizing what I was saying. The conversation went something like this;

“Mittie, you are sick- you are real sick.”

Sister Missionary Ruth: “yas Lawd, yas Lawd!”

“Mittie, your gall bladder is infected and the infection is real serious.”

Sister Missionary Ruth: “Dr. Mo, Dr. Mo!”

“Mittie, you have to have surgery right away.”

Sister Missionary Ruth: “Looka he’ah, looka he’ah!” (translated; looky here, looky here).

Mittie had no questions for me concerning the operation, nor did any of the family members, including Sister Missionary Ruth. I always knew this was a sign of total trust of the patient and family in the Lord’s power to use me, and I never took that trust lightly. When I prayed at her bedside for her deliverance and healing from this illness, every one of the Bluford’s were also praying fervently out loud, so it was impossible to discern all of their words. I just know that the Lord heard each one as clearly as if he were the only one praying, and it was a sweet offering to His ears.

At the operation, I discovered that her problem was a diseased and abscessed gall bladder that could be removed for a cure of her problem. When I saw what was wrong, my response was; “Looka he’ah, looka he’ah!” not in jest, but in gratitude to the Lord for his healing, for Mittie’s trust in Him and in me, and for all the Bluford’s, who I knew were in the waiting room praying.

Dr. John

“We’ve Done Everything Except Pray”

When I began private practice in general surgery in my hometown, part of the decision to return home was based on the fact that my older brother Berry Lee was in a family medicine practice there. I was excited to have his 14 years of medical practice experience to lean on. I also loved just being around him because of my love and respect of his wonderful character. One aspect of Bubba’s personality at that time, that made both Cathy and me very uneasy was his spiritual life. According to him, he had a spiritual conversion 4 years earlier, and we couldn’t relate to the changes that occurred in him. Although we were moral in our character, and religious in nature, neither of us had experienced changes in our life like the ones he described to us. Whenever the topic of faith arose in our conversation, we changed the subject as quickly as possible. His zealous attitude towards everything related to faith did not affect our professional relationship, and he referred almost every one of his surgical patients to me.

Barbara H. was a woman well-known in our community because of her father’s excellent reputation as a businessman, and she was married to a prominent businessman. Although she was several years older, I had known her and her siblings since childhood. She suffered with childhood diabetes, and even at her relatively young age, was beginning to have major complications because she was not managing the disease well. She had been admitted by Bubba to the hospital with severe abdominal pains and fever, and was getting worse despite large doses of intravenous antibiotics. Her tests indicated she had gall stones and her symptoms were that of acute infection. We were hoping the infection would subside, so that the gall bladder could be removed at a later time instead of as an emergency. She grew worse, and an immediate operation was necessary. Both she and her husband were made aware of the dangers and complications of an operation under these dire conditions.

The operation was more difficult than anticipated because she also had pancreatic infection, in addition to the abscessed gall bladder with gall stones. The combination of these two problems in a diabetic patient, made her condition critical, so she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Unfortunately she did not awaken from the general anesthetic, but was breathing on her own, so she didn’t require the use of a respirator. Bubba consulted an internist and a pulmonary specialist to get their best thoughts and recommendations concerning her management. Despite all of our efforts, she steadily worsened over the next 3 days, never awakening from the coma. Her temperature reached a level I had never seen. It was so high that our thermometer couldn’t accurately measure it, but we extrapolated that it was 108 F! We placed her on an ice blanket to try to bring it down. On the evening of the third post-operative day, her vital signs were beginning to worsen while her temperature remained off the chart. Bubba and I went to the waiting room to give her husband Bill this new and dreaded report. Bubba said, “Bill, it looks like Barbara won’t make it through the night unless a miracle occurs.” He began to cry and said, “She has been a wonderful wife and mother to our children, and I don’t know how I will get along without her. I am going to miss her so much.” We assured him we were doing everything possible, and he said he was confident that she was getting the best care possible.

Bubba went back to her bedside while I went to the nurse’s desk to write my progress note for the evening. I heard Bubba say, “We have done everything for her except pray, so I want all of us to gather around her bed and pray.” I had never done anything like that in my professional or personal life, and was not interested in a public display of religion. Bubba was insistent, and to keep from making a further scene in the ICU, I reluctantly went to her bedside. There were 2 nurses and a nurse’s aid, and he had us  hold hands while he prayed. I was so embarrassed at all of this, that I don’t remember exactly what he prayed, but it was something like, “Lord, we’ve done all we know to do, and it hasn’t worked, so would You take over and heal Barbara.” I was glad when he finished, and went back to the desk to finish my charting. Before I got there, I heard a stirring from the direction of her bedside, and turned in time to hear her voice as she said weakly, “I am so cold. Could I have another blanket?”

I was shaken to the core, because not only had I never been part of a bed-side prayer by a physician, but I had never witnessed such a dramatic physical change in a patient so near death. Although we were all very excited for Barbara and for her family, Bubba acted like he had expected these results from his prayer. That only added to my amazement.

When I arrived home, Cathy was standing at our kitchen sink, and told me she had been praying for Barbara since I left for the hospital that evening. When I told her what had happened, we rejoiced but were beginning to re-consider our belief in the power of prayer.

Barbara fully recovered from this problem and lived another 15 years. As a result of this experience, and a number of other things, both Cathy and I had a spiritual conversion 2 years later. Everything changed for us, and among other things, I began praying with and witnessing to my patients. Subsequently, when I saw Barbara as a patient, or in a social setting, we would discuss how God had used her illness and near-death experience to teach me the power of believing prayer. I was also taught that as a physician, prayer should be primary in my care of every patient, not waiting until all medical efforts fail before praying. Christ alone has the power to heal all our illnesses.

Dr. John

The Fireman’s Band

One of Pop’s favorite stories concerning his two years of training at the world-famous Charity Hospital in New Orleans in the mid 1930’s, concerned a bar in the French Quarters called The Fireman’s Band. This favorite hang-out for many of the doctors and nurses at “The Charity,” was partially owned by one of Pop’s friends, who was also an intern at the hospital.

At that time Pop and our mother, Mimi, had only one child, Berry Lee, who was 5 years old when they moved from Little Rock to New Orleans. They lived in a small apartment a few blocks off St. Charles Avenue near the downtown. Pop said the 2 years of their life in New Orleans were very happy years, because he had finally settled into a career in medicine. He had spent 8 years in failing business ventures prior to deciding to follow his father’s path into medicine. It wasn’t easy going back to finish college and then medical school at a later age and stage in life, but he had finally gotten his medical degree, and life was much better.

There wasn’t much time for recreation, but occasionally they would join several of their married friends for an evening of relaxation at The Fireman’s Band. This was not a typical boisterous and bawdy type of establishment often found in the French Quarters. Alcoholic beverages were served and there was always a Dixieland band playing, but the atmosphere was light, the customers were mostly married couples, and there was even a back room furnished with toys for their children to play. Pop said Berry Lee was always excited to get to go to The Fireman’s Band.

Shortly after moving to New Orleans, they began attending St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church and found a perfect church home for them to attend. Mimi had never been baptized by immersion, and it was decided that she should be properly baptized as part of their membership there. It was scheduled following an evening service. After the baptism at the conclusion of the service, the pastor had Mimi, Pop and Berry Lee standing at the front of the church, so the members could come by and congratulate her and welcome them into the church fellowship. One particular lady in the long line of members, leaned over to shake Berry Lee’s hand, and she asked him, “Young man, how are you going to celebrate your mother’s baptism tonight?” He stood up straight and proudly said, “We’re going to go to The Fireman’s Band!” Pop was speechless at Berry Lee’s answer, because there were no such plans for the evening. Pop said if he could have gotten under a pew, or hidden from the  view of several startled church members who had heard this exchange, he would have gladly done so. However; to make things worse, the lady continued, and asked Berry Lee, “Well, young man, just what do you plan to do at The Fireman’s Band?” Possibly thinking he might entice her to join them, he again proudly said, “We sing songs, we tell jokes and we drink Coke and Clear!” Pop said he doubted that the lady knew that “Clear” was a slang expression used during Prohibition for a type of gin. He was absolutely confident that Berry Lee had no idea of what he had just said. He had just heard someone at The Fireman’s Band use that term, and he added it to the Coke which he loved drinking while he was in the back room with the other children.

This story has been retold many times in our family whenever Berry Lee was present, and he would always smile and sometimes chuckle at something he said that he really couldn’t remember. The rest of the  story; however,and something that everyone in our family knew about him, is that not one time in his long life did Bubba ever taste “Clear,” or any other beverage alcohol for that matter. The one time he visited Cathy and me when we lived in New Orleans, he didn’t request that we go to the Fireman’s Band, or any other night spot in the French Quarters.

Dr. John

The Visiting Doctor Has A Bad Day

As a 4th year surgical resident at Charity Hospital of New Orleans in 1969, I considered myself to have “seen it all and operated on at least one of everything.” I was a young, enthusiastic surgeon and wanted my family to share in as many of my medical experiences as possible. On more than one occasion, I tried to get my wife Cathy to come into the operating room dressed in a surgical scrub suit, and watch her “famous husband do miraculous deeds!” She always graciously declined by saying something like, “I’d rather not draw attention to myself by getting sick.”

Cathy’s brother George and his wife Dawn, who lived in Valdosta, Georgia at the time, were visiting us one particular weekend that I happened to be on call for emergency surgeries. I had reached the enviable status that I could take calls from home, unless there was a case that was too difficult for the junior resident to handle. Our enjoyable time together was being interrupted by numerous calls from the junior resident, who just needed reassurance that he was making the right decisions, and that I didn’t need to be there. I had told George that in case I did have to go to the hospital for an operation, he could accompany me if he desired, and he could see first-hand what a “great surgeon” his brother in law had become!

George was the Dean of Students at Valdosta State College and had an earned PhD in Higher Education. With his title, “Dr. Young,” it would be much easier getting him into the operating suite without arousing any undue concerns. He said he was hoping he might have the opportunity of observing what takes place in that environment, so he could share that experience with the students at his college who had an interest in the medical field.

Just after lunch on Saturday, the resident called to say that he had 2 patients that were trauma victims needing emergency surgery, and a third patient who was in immediate need of a Vena Cava ligation. This patient was throwing multiple blood clots into his lungs, and the operation would be life-saving, so I knew I had to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. The junior resident was capable of handling both of the trauma patients. While driving to the hospital, I told George that I would introduce him as a “visiting doctor,” and that he could simply observe, rather than scrub up, put on a sterile gown and gloves and have a hands-on experience. His lack of knowledge of those procedures would be an immediate giveaway that he was not an M.D., and I didn’t want any unnecessary attention drawn to George.

We got to the 12th floor operating suite and quickly donned our scrub suits. Because this was his first experience in such an environment, I wasn’t too concerned about the initial anxiety that I could see in George’s face and detect in his voice. Charity Hospital was a huge facility, and there were 12 operating rooms on each of two sides of the large operating suite. The two trauma patients awaiting their procedure were on the gurneys outside their respective rooms, and both patients, though stable, were receiving blood transfusions. My attention was focused on the patient on whom I was to operate, so I wasn’t paying close attention to George. I had simply introduced him to the many doctors and nurses in the hallway as “Dr. Young, a visiting doctor from Georgia.” As we were waiting to take our patient into the room, a student came rushing up to George and asked, “Dr. Young, the patient by Room 10 has received 2 units of blood already. Do I need to start a 3rd unit?” George quickly said, “I’m not sure. You need to ask Dr. Moore.” Fast thinking for the visiting doctor!

Our operation began with George standing at the head of the table next to the anesthesiologist, where he could get an unobstructed view. After I made a very long incision and quickly exposed the Vena Cava, I pointed out to George various organs and what we were planning to do in this procedure. George was leaning over the table intently observing, and seemed to be absorbed in his new learning experience. I did notice that he was not asking any questions. When I had to focus all of my attention to the delicate portion of the procedure, I didn’t see that George had left the room. When I came to a point that I could turn over the responsibilities of the operation to the younger resident, I took off the sterile gown and began looking for George.

When I asked one of the nurses if she had seen Dr. Young, she said he was in the utility room adjacent to the O.R. I found George sitting near a window which had been opened, with his head as close to the window as possible. A student nurse was fanning him and giving him as much comfort as possible. George said to the nurse, “That’s the last operation I will ever watch. I darned near passed out!” The nurse said, “Oh Dr. Young, please don’t quit surgery because of this.” George said, “Ma’am, I’m a PhD, not an M.D., and this is the last one for sure.” The nurse responded, “In that case, you better lie down!”

We didn’t talk much on our way back to our apartment, where I knew our wives were anxiously awaiting a report of our experience. Finally George said in a refreshingly honest way, “I don’t mind if you tell them I fainted, because I’ve seen all the surgery I ever want to see.” To this day I’ve not been able to convince George that every doctor has at least one bad day in the O.R.

Dr. John

The Value of a Soul

There is a passage in Psalm 142:4 that was brought to light in my soul early one morning in the emergency room in Warner Brown Hospital. I was the surgeon on call to the ER this particular night and was soundly sleeping until the telephone rang at our home at 3 AM. These were the days prior to ER physicians who are hired to stay on-site and treat most every emergency including lacerations. My responsibilities as the surgeon on-call were to treat every surgical emergency from simple lacerations to major traumatic wounds.

The ER nurse informed me that she had just admitted a patient who had been drinking alcohol in a local bar; had gotten into an argument and sustained multiple facial lacerations that needed repair. I knew this was going to take about 2 hours, so my sleep for the night was essentially over. While driving to the hospital, I had a major struggle in my heart with a wicked attitude toward this person whom I did not know. My thinking was something like this; “Why in the world would a person be drinking whiskey in a bar at this hour and then have the ignorance to get into a fight? He doesn’t have the slightest concern that the doctor, who has to come and sew him up, has major surgical cases scheduled at 7 AM and needs his rest!” By the time I got to the ER, I had worked myself into a state of anger toward this man whom I had never met.

I half-heartedly introduced myself to Tony, a 60 year old man who was unshaven with a 3 day-old beard. He reeked of whiskey or cheap wine, and was barely coherent in speech. I discovered he was unemployed and had no insurance to cover the large hospital charges he would incur, and certainly was unable to pay my much smaller fee for such a service. So here I was in the early morning hours, stuck in the emergency room, with no prospect of further rest and no possibility of any financial reimbursement. The more I thought about it, the less I liked Tony and the more resentful I was of him and people like him. I would describe my attitude as civil, but certainly not kind nor compassionate. I sutured his multiple lacerations as quickly as I could, without taking much time with the cosmetics, and engaging him in as little conversation as possible. If Tony had gauged my Christian witness to him on a scale of 1 to 10; with 10 being the highest, I am certain I would have received a 1. In his present state; however, he wasn’t able to guage much of anything.

When I finished and Tony was bandaged and ready to be released, I went into the small adjacent staff room where there was coffee available, and a quiet place to write on the medical record. A good friend and medical colleague was there also. He had been treating a young patient with a severe nose bleed and had finally gotten the bleeding stopped. He asked me why I was there, to which I responded as I was sipping the hot coffee, “I’ve been sewing up a character named Tony that is so drunk, he can hardly speak. I don’t know why we have to keep treating such sorry excuses of humanity like him, and especially in the middle of the night!” I seemed to have felt better by getting all of that out. My friend listened quietly to my tirade, and then softly said, “Isn’t it a wonderful thing, that our Savior died for characters like Tony, just like He died for us.” I suddenly didn’t feel so well, and was ashamed that my flesh had so ruled my thoughts, my words and my actions that I failed to see just how much value that the Lord Jesus had placed on Tony, and what little value I had placed on him.

Psalm 142:4 is a cry from David, at a time when he was hiding in a cave, and could not tell that anyone cared for his safety or his soul. The world is full of desperate people who have lost hope that there is anyone who has the slightest concern for them, whether they live or die. My experience with Tony in the emergency room that night, combined with the gentle rebuke from my Christian colleague, changed my heart. I saw my role as a Christian physician more clearly. God called me to serve others with gladness; to consider every appointment as divine, and to value everyone’s soul as much as He does. Thank you Tony for allowing me the privilege to serve you. God loves you and so do I.

Dr. John