I had completed all of my medical training; had spent 2 years serving in the medical corps of the Air Force and had been in private medical practice for 2 years before I witnessed a physician praying with a patient. That was a total of 14 years of training and practice time! What an indictment on the spiritual poverty of the medical profession during my training era. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was the first doctor I ever saw praying at the bedside of a critically ill patient, and I remember at the time feeling embarrassed, because it was such a strange experience. I documented the account in the blog story; “We’ve Done Everything Except Pray,” which I posted on this site in August 2012. It was several years later in 1977 when Cathy and I had a spiritual conversion, I gave my life and my medical practice to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That bedside prayer of Bubba in the ICU at the Medical Center of South Arkansas played a role in the conversion of my heart and life and definitely impacted Cathy and me at the time.
I am so very grateful to Bubba for the kind of man and role model he was for me, our sister Marilyn, my Cathy, his family and countless others. I am also very thankful for the 33 years from my conversion until Bubba departed this life, he was a Christian mentor for me in my practice. Early on he suggested I begin praying with my patients prior to their operations. Having watched him pray and spiritually minister to his patients, I saw in them a certain peace and comfort other patients didn’t seem to have, so I believed it was the right thing. In the beginning there were so many negative thoughts which were not of God. I suspicioned my patients might think I did not have confidence in my own surgical skills, so I was having to resort to prayer. Then I was afraid I would alarm my patients to fear since by praying I might be thinking they were going to die. I also worried if I stumbled and stammered in my prayer, they would think that was the way I operated– stumbling and fumbling. These were all foolish fears, and none were true.
My initial efforts at prayer with patients were certainly awkward, but I persisted with every hospitalized surgical patient, and within a few months I was more at ease. I don’t know if other doctors in El Dorado apart from Bubba and me were praying with patients, but I believe some were. There were definitely some committed Christian doctors in town. At the time I didn’t want to ask any of them about praying with patients for fear of embarrassing them if they weren’t, or acting proud and puffed up that I was. I am certain of the impact prayer had on me spiritually and the countless opportunities for ministry with my patients which opened. I became convinced that every patient encounter was a divine appointment, and the more faithful I was in seeking the eternal perspective of that encounter, the more likely I was to discover it.
I never tried to force my faith perspective on my patients and always asked their permission for me to pray. In the 29 years of surgical practice in El Dorado I can recall only 2 patients who refused my offer to pray for them. One was a woman scheduled for a relatively minor operation. On the evening prior to the procedure, her husband was in the room and following my answering of their few questions regarding the operation, I asked if I could pray for her safety and healing. Her husband graciously thanked me, but said, “We are Witnesses and we will take care of our prayers.” Following a brief exchange of the core beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I understood they believed the prayers of evangelical Christians were ineffective and unnecessary. He handed me a copy of their Green Book which I accepted from him, but never read it, and in fact placed it in the trash on my way out of the hospital. She healed nicely from the procedure, and I believe my ongoing relationship with her and her husband was cordial and respectful.
The other person who refused my prayer was a locally well-known pastor’s wife who had suffered the death of her unborn child at the 4-5 month stage of her pregnancy. I was visiting her in the hospital to offer my condolences, and at the end of a brief visit asked if I might pray for her and her husband. She said, “I would rather you would not pray.” I was surprised at her answer and looked toward her husband who was standing at the foot of her bed. He nodded for me to go ahead because he wanted me to pray. I don’t remember what I prayed but briefly asked God to bring healing and comfort to their broken hearts. As I left that awkward experience, I understood she was dealing with great hurt and sorrowful disappointment, and at that particular moment was angry with God. In the months ahead her heart was healed, and her faith in her sovereign Lord was restored.
Through the years of my practice in the same town with Bubba, we were able to encourage and challenge one another in the application of faith and witness with our patients. I loved hearing him tell one account after another of God’s hand at work in the lives of his patients, and it challenged me to remain faithful, not only in prayer but in witness. Those conversations I recall are cherished memories of an older brother who for me, was a hero of the faith. I was challenged by his example and purposed to encourage younger doctors who I knew were believers in Jesus Christ, to pray with their patients and to also consider their patient appointments as divine.