Prayer, Medicine and Miracles
Faith adventures of a praying doctor
by DAVE WALKER MD
A Word about this book
When I published my first book, God in the ICU, I received many requests for more stories. This is a response to those requests.
In many ways it has been a hard book to write. I had to give it some sort of time line, and yet I did not want to repeat what I had written in God in the ICU. I have got around that by using historical events to “pin” the incidents in some kind of time frame. Nevertheless, I inevitably had to repeat some of the biographical progression, which I have covered here in far less depth than I did in God in the ICU, in which it plays a greater role in the unfolding story. If this is the first book of mine that you are reading, what you read here will, I’m sure, in no way detract from the story in God in the ICU.
Like a magic lantern show, the images come and go. On occasion the lantern sputters, darkening momentarily while murky pictures hasten from my mind: vague memories of games with my brother, now long dead; a vision of panting up the crumbling scree on the slopes of Kilimanjaro in the pre-dawn gloom; laughter and pain at the camaraderie and conflict confronting a boy in his teens. At other times, bright and clear, a story unfolds -- a little boy on the front seat of an old car as it dashes through the night, listening wide-eyed to his dad; monitors screaming as a young girl lies in a pool of blood on the ICU bed; hands pressed against the grates of prison windows, desperate for contact with the outside world.
These are the images that make up who I am, just as you have images that make up who you are. We humans are strange, four dimensional creatures, living in our past as well as our present. Behind each face, each reaction, is an unseen history. What we were, what we experienced shapes what we are, how we react.
Yet, mystery of mysteries, how we perceive our history changes the way it molds us. The lens shapes the viewer.
No doubt, if I had told my story three decades ago it would be different. Yet the Bible tells us that gray hairs are an old man’s glory, so perhaps I can tell it with greater wisdom and insight now. In any case, I can laugh at things that did not seem funny at the time and weep now, at stories that left me unmoved then. Whatever the case, my life has been full. Abundant life is not a life of ease, or permanent highs. It is exhilarating peaks and shattering valleys, joy and pain, freedom and brokenness sometimes, paradoxically, together.
As you read my story perhaps, since we all belong to that exclusive race called ‘human’, you will experience, not only me, but something of yourself in the stories.
I looked down on the body of the first dead man I'd ever seen. He was muscular and must have been strong; a man in his late 40s, now lying stiff and cold on the dissecting table of the Anatomy laboratory. The long room was cold, filled with the acrid smell of formalin. I had walked from the sunshine of optimism and adventure into a ghoulish place that seemed dark and threatening. Like most young men, I felt indestructible. Death was unthinkable -- at worst, a far off reality. Yet here I was looking down on it as starkly real.
I wondered what he had died from -- he looked so virile and tough. And what of his family? Who was mourning this man, who now was laid out as an object to be dissected and analyzed by a group of medical students? Were there young children? A mourning wife? And where was his soul? Was he with God? The chill in the room was echoed in my spirit. I felt reluctant to put a scalpel to his skin.
The year was 1960. I was in my second year of training as a doctor, fulfilling the dream I had nursed from the age of seven. This was my first Anatomy class. I was maturing fast.
How did I get here? As I look back, I can see the hand of God moving — imperceptibly at the times, but obviously, on looking back.
It all started as an 8-year old boy….
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“How would you like to come with me to Umniati, Dave? It’ll be a long drive, but we can both go to the power station and we will see Mr. Jack.”
“What, just me? What about Ray?” Ray was my mischievous younger brother.
“No, Ray is still a bit small. Just you and me.” My heart jumped for joy. My dad was an electrical engineer and needed to travel occasionally to inspect the rural power stations. Umniati was one of them. And I was going with him. This was man’s stuff.
We set off early in the morning, arriving in time for lunch with Mr. Jack and his wife.
Mr. Jack was a thin florid-faced man with bright bedraggled carrot-red hair and a wiry mustache to match. He spoke in a sharp, gravelly voice that sounded as if he was about to choke. He had a predilection for chilies, and at lunch he ate them whole. When he did, his face grew even redder and he started sweating profusely; his voice grew sharper and higher as if he was about to be strangled. In my eight year old mind he seemed to be on fire, consumed by an inner furnace that blazed through his face and hair. It was fascinating to sit next to a fire man -- almost like being in one of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I half expected his wife to have a spinning wheel and a little gnome in her bedroom.
It was dark when we set off back to Salisbury. My father had a phenomenal memory for poetry and memorized many epics which he enjoyed reciting. On this occasion, as he drove, he recited The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service. I sat on the edge of the bench seat of our big old car gazing at him as he recited. The light from the dashboard shone dimly on his face and glinted in his eyes which were trained on the road ahead. Only his lips moved, telling a story that transported me to another world.
Part of me was sitting by my dad. Another part was in a low-lit saloon bar, lounging at the counter with a burly group of tough miners and prospectors while
[Back of the bar in a solo game.
Sat dangerous Dan McGrew]
The car headlights caused the trees to loom, then flash by, but I hardly noticed as a stranger, fresh from the creeks “dog dirty and loaded for bear” stumbled into the bar and ordered drinks all round. Dangerous Dan McGrew drank last..
[There’s men that somehow just grip your eyes,
And hold them hard like a spell;]
My father drove on, but his words took on life in that world of bare floorboards, rough wooden tables, smoking lanterns and macho men.
[And such was he, and he looked to me
Like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare
Of a dog whose day is done,]
The steady rhythm of Dad’s voice heightened the drama. Who was this man? And what did he have to do with dangerous Dan McGrew?
My father’s lips poured out a story of real men fighting over a girl, and I was there with the toughest of them.
Finally Dan McGrew lay bullet-ridden on the floor while the stranger was dying in the woman’s arms. The story was over but, like any good tale, it lingered in the atmosphere, hanging like the cigarette smoke in the saloon, as I sat quietly beside my dad.
Today, there is much made about gender confusion. That trip defined me as a man. Though I was only eight, from that day onward I knew I was male -- and was made for manly things. It was the foundation for a life of adventure. I knew that men took risks. Real men are prepared to do dangerous things in spite of the hazard.
As I developed, I knew that men risked not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. This also meant doing what is right no matter the cost. Real men formed their own opinions; they didn’t just follow the crowd. Of course all this came much later. It was fleshed out and defined, particularly when I joined an active Scout group, which taught me duty and honor, self-reliance and concern for the underdog; but the foundation was set on the bench seat of an old car late at night and far from home.
Two years before my trip to Umniati, God had already started my spiritual molding. When I was six years old, my parents dropped me off at Sunday School at the large Anglican cathedral in the middle of Salisbury (now Harare). Not avid churchgoers themselves, they nevertheless considered spiritual input part of the education for their children.
One day, someone came recruiting for the cathedral choir. I immediately signed up and, at the tender age of six, informed my parents that I would be required to attend the sung services three times every Sunday, and choir practice twice a week.
As choirboys, we looked angelic in our cassocks, surplices and frilled collars, but a dozen or more mischievous young boys often brought a little taste of the devil into the hallowed quarters of the cathedral. We hid snacks and drink under our cassocks, consuming them during the service as we knelt piously behind the choir stalls. We made eyes at the schoolgirls in the pews; we even crumpled notes to them in a ball, flicking them from hands clasped virtuously in front, while we processed down the aisle,
Nevertheless, three times every Sunday for ten years, I was exposed to the Word of God. I recited it with the rest of the congregation, heard it read with the lessons and sang it in the Magnificat, the Psalms and Nunc Dimittis. Subconsciously I grew to love the beauty of the psalms, especially as we sang them with the lilt of plainsong, in King James English. Even today I cannot read, in Luke 1:46, Mary’s burst of joyful praise as she visits Elizabeth without my soul being flooded with the soaring refrain of Stanford’s Magnificat.
Thus, God was preparing me as He cradled me in the weekly rhythms of choir practice twice a week and church thrice on Sunday. To believe in Him was as natural as believing in my own parents. In fact, it was only in my late twenties that I realized, with stunned amazement, that there were people who doubted God’s existence. Nevertheless, my exposure to God within the High Church of an Anglican cathedral, with its pomp and ceremony, revealed to me but one aspect (though, in my opinion, an important one) of God. The formality and splendor, with priests singing in monotone, words that would normally be spoken, made a stark contrast to the ordinary world. Every Sunday I entered the world of robes and surplices and frilled collars, of sweet-smelling incense and hushed voices. I loved it, and I believe I experienced the presence of God, but it seemed He was in a different reality to the secular world. He was high and lifted up, and barely approachable save through the holy rituals conducted within the towering stone walls of the sacred places reserved for Him.
My first deeply personal encounter with God was during my confirmation, when it came to confession time before the priest. I took this very seriously and listed all I could think of that I had done wrong. I had smoked at the back of the bus on the way back from choir practice, told lies, insulted a Jewish girl and a black man….. As the list grew longer, I grew more fearful of the moment I had to confess all this before the priest.
Finally, the dreaded moment came. My heart was pounding in my ears as I sank to my knees and, with a trembling voice that seemed to reverberate shockingly through the portals of heaven, I read out my list.
Then suddenly, like a wave that swept through my body, I was washed clean. I cannot say I experienced God as a person, but it was as though my whole being had been purged of all darkness. I felt pure and clean and holy, filled with light.
I walked in this glorious cocoon of light and purity for days, but then the feeling started to fade. No-one could explain what had happened to me. Often, in the next few days, my hand would travel to my forehead, to my heart and then to each shoulder as I made the sign of the cross in a desperate attempt to keep the feeling. After a few weeks though, it was gone, and God was once more obscured behind the bells, the incense and the Gregorian chanting, distant, in my mind, from the worries and strivings of the outside world.
Yet, although my experience in the cathedral did not equip me to draw close to God in crises, there is no doubt it painted, in glorious, extravagant colors, a picture of God which has stayed with me throughout my life. The soaring architecture, the stained glass windows, and the spiritual deposit of years of worshiping saints in the great cathedrals have left me with a sense of the awesomeness of God. It makes me want to speak in hushed tones and bow in worship.
God is wonderfully renewing His church as He pours out His Spirit, bringing freedom and intimacy, healing and hope. Yet we should never forget that He is not only intimately involved in His creation, He is also high above all He has made, ruling sovereignly in unspeakable glory. If we do not embrace both His lofty holiness and glory and His deep, close involvement in our lives, we lose out in our relationship with Him. Nothing can compare to a personal experience of Jesus as He floods our lives with His deep love and grace. Yet the wonderful freedom and intimacy that has swept the church in the past decades has sometimes deprived us of the fear of God, which, the Word tells us, is the beginning of wisdom.
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While the cathedral choir was an important part of my life, I found an outlet for my adventurous spirit in the Scouting movement. I learned to cook, to fix tap washers, to converse in French, to track animal spoor, to treat broken limbs, wash cars and a thousand other ways to be a useful citizen. Every second weekend I was in the Zimbabwe bush, camping or trailing. We waded through swamps, took bearings atop Zimbabwe’s famous granite balancing rocks, stepped carefully over puff adders sunbathing on the dusty paths and swam in laughing waters and reflective pools.
The highlight of my adventures with the Scouts was our ascent of Kilimanjaro, when I was sixteen. The start of our journey was along a path cut through dense tropical jungle. The high spirits in which we started wilted into grim determination as we trudged ever upwards. Our backpacks grew heavier and we were drenched with sweat in the dank humidity, scarcely aware of the dancing butterflies and occasional orchids hanging, with the lichen, from the trees.
The following day, at an altitude of three and a half thousand meters, we left the forest behind and climbed through savanna country. Then, as we trudged up and up and up, the vegetation thinned until we were on the barren plateau between the two peaks of Kilimanjaro. We were breathless now, at nearly five thousand meters and it was snowing. We crunched our way over volcanic scree, passing outcrops of black rock that contorted like congealed steel, contrasting starkly with the pristine snow that lay, like crystal-white symbols of purity, at their base.
We set off at 3.00 o’clock the next morning to reach the summit before dawn. The rarefied air had me gasping after just three steps. It was utterly exhausting work climbing, in the dark, nearly a thousand meters up loose, volcanic scree that gave way underfoot. The icy, rare air, rushing into my heaving chest, chilled my throat and windpipe, till they burned. The panting, and low oxygen, left me lightheaded and strangely euphoric. Finally near the summit I reached solid rock, while on either side of me glaciers stood out palely, like welcoming ice age creatures, becoming more distinct as we drew nearer, and as the darkness retreated in the predawn.
I reached the summit before sunrise and waited in the numbing cold, perched on a rock on the roof of Africa. Far below me, in the lightening sky, the clouds stretched, like a woolly blanket all the way to the horizon. The sun peered over the edge and with it, a shaft of orange light sped along the cloud mantle to me. The glaciers glistened gold before turning translucent bottle green and blue with the rising sun.
An icy blast chilled my face and numbed my hands, but my spirit was soaring. I stood on the edge of Kilimanjaro’s crater, lifted my hands to the sky and shouted for joy. I was on the top of Africa and God was there in the beauty of the morning sun over the clouds, the glistening glaciers and the peak on which I stood.
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Yes, though I was unaware of it at the time, God was preparing me for His divine purpose. The discipline of anesthetics, taken to its limits, is an adventure and, I believe, can only be practiced holistically by having an awareness of God and including Him in the process, in prayer. The anesthesiologist is steeped in the drama of medicine as he carries the life of another in his hands. Sometimes it requires decisive action in a matter of seconds to avert a tragedy. A farmer is gasping from a knife wound through his kidney. A trauma patient has a cardiac arrest at the theater door. A young woman is dying from septicemia in an ambulance careening through the streets of Pietermaritzburg in a dash to Grey’s Hospital ICU. While comprising only a fraction of the cases, (most anesthetics are a smooth transition from blissful unawareness to emergence with the operation done), these cases, that form some of the stories of this book, are typical of what the anesthesiologist must be prepared for.
My preparation started with a poem recited by my father in a car trip in the dark. It was perpetuated by his example as a loving dad. It was strengthened by regular exposure to the Word of God and prayer in a cathedral, and solidified by a vibrant, active Scouting fraternity.
I stood before the dead man. There were five other students around the same body. In the long Anatomy room, other tables held other bodies and were similarly surrounded by six students to a body. We had each brought our set of scalpels and forceps. Our tutor came around. “Okay, let’s start with something simple. Dissect out the veins of the arms and legs” Why veins? Why not veins?
I took out my scalpel and, for the first time in my life, sliced another person’s skin in a long incision beside the edge of a large vein in his arm.
It took a few weeks for me to dehumanize my cadaver, but soon he was an object from which to learn. Yet, when it came to dissecting his face, I realized my casual attitude was just a veneer. He became a man once more -- a mutilated man now, but one with a history. And a family.
The maturing process continued. In my third year at Medical School, as part of the Forensic Medicine class, we were taken to the police mortuary. I was studying at a time of inter-tribal violence, which resulted in what became known notoriously as “panga murders”. A panga is the colloquial name for a machete. On the slab in the mortuary was the mutilated body of a man whose life had been taken in a vicious attack by a panga gang.
The forensic pathologist was a thin, hyperactive man who spoke rapidly in a clear, high-pitched voice. He stood beside the body. “Now what have we got here?” He looked up sharply, focusing on us one at a time.
“A body. We’ve got a body.”
No. We have a dead man.
“How did he die?”
Someone murmured, “A panga murder.”
“Yes, a panga murder, but how did he die?”
He pointed to a deep gash at the base of the dead man’s neck. “Look. A slashed subclavian artery. He bled to death.”
“Now.” He picked up an arm. I had the impression he was enjoying himself. “What are these?”
Someone said, “Deep lacerations.”
“Yes, good. Can you see what this means?”
He put his hand up across his face. “He was trying to defend himself.”
Suddenly I was filled with a mixture of despair and disgust. I knew the pathologist saw these cases every day, but in a sense that was part of the problem. He seemed so dispassionate. He was probably enjoying putting all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, but I somehow resented his enjoying unraveling what was a terrible moment -- a moment of brutality and terror. The evidence of those last frantic, fruitless attempts at self-defense somehow touched me deeply; and the evidence of the depth to which man has fallen left me with despair for our sinful state. I have never forgotten that first scene in the police mortuary.
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Yet life at Medical School had its lighter moments. The telling of the first story requires a little background knowledge of the snobbery which, I suppose, haunts many a prestigious academic institution:
There are less than a handful of private schools in Cape Town to which the elite of society send their children. One of the best known is Bishop’s Diocesan College. Many a leader in commerce, politics or academia can trace his scholastic roots and social graces to Bishop’s, and is proud to let his colleagues know of such a heritage.
The teaching departments at Groote Schuur Hospital were divided into “firms”. Each firm, responsible for its own wards, had a head, a number of consultants, registrars-in-training (doctors learning the specialty) and interns. Every morning, the firm did a ward round going from bed to bed. The registrar-in-training presented the clinical history of the patient around whom all were gathered and, under the direction of the head of the firm, discussion took place before moving to the next bed. The students allocated to that firm were required to be present, observing the proceedings.
The head of one of the internal medicine firms was Dr. Helen Brown.
Dr. Brown was tall and thin, wore her hair in a bun and stood as straight as an arrow. She had a habit of looking at you with piercing eyes, as if daring you to partake in any discussion. Her language was always proper and she expected the same from the members of her firm. She was highly respected. Her ward rounds were always very ordered, respectable affairs.
Among the consultants in her firm was Eugene Dowdle. Dr. Dowdle had a stutter and a sense of humor. His stutter was not an impediment. It was more like an attractive way of e-e-emphasizing a point! At one memorable ward round, we were gathered at a patient’s bed when a nurse drew the curtains around the adjacent bed and gave the patient an injection. Suddenly, the air was pierced with a string of expletives from behind the curtain.
"@*&$%, nurse, what the &*(^[email protected]@ ! That was @ sore!"
Everyone stood rigid, not knowing where to look -- certainly not at Dr. Helen Brown. A deathly silence descended on that gathering around the bed; and a tangible stillness as no-one dared move. Then, like a hand crumbling the silence, and with it, the atmosphere, came the voice of Eugene Dowdle. "Hmmm.......must be an ex-B-B-Bishop's b-boy!"
On another occasion we were being taught anesthetics at the local dental clinic. Those were primitive days in some ways, and I hasten to say that the method being taught to us more than half a century ago would never be practiced today.
If a patient required a general anesthetic, he sat in the dental chair and a small mask was strapped to his face to cover just his nose, thus allowing the dentist access to his mouth. A curved connection allowed the mask to be attached to the tubing of the anesthetic machine, which delivered the anesthetic gas to the patient. Usually the patient received a small dose of intravenous anesthetic, followed by nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and a vapor similar to ether, via the nasal mask.
On this day, the anesthetist elected to show us a different method. She would fill the patient's lungs with 100% oxygen, she said, by getting him to breathe it for a full five minutes. Then she would turn off the oxygen and give him pure nitrous oxide and nothing else. The oxygen in his lungs, as it dissolved in the blood passing through, would pull the nitrous oxide deep into the lungs and the patient would rapidly go to sleep.
That was the theory.
Nitrous oxide, however is a very weak anesthetic. For this reason it is always combined with another volatile agent -- the modern equivalent of ether or chloroform -- to keep a patient asleep. Only a small, frail individual who goes to sleep easily would be a candidate for nitrous oxide as the only agent, as our tutor was proposing. True, she had chosen a gentle, soft-spoken man, but he was heavily built, with a florid face that betrayed his drinking habits. Habitual alcohol use makes one resistant to anesthetics.
All went well as our anesthetic tutor strapped on the nasal mask and curved connection and attached it to the anesthetic machine. The patient sat placidly breathing in 100% oxygen. Then the oxygen was turned off and the nitrous oxide turned up. The patient's eyes glazed over and his lids drooped.
Suddenly, with a roar like a bull he jumped out of the chair. The mask and curved connection detached from the anesthetic machine and he ran out of the room. Roaring all the way -- and looking like an angry rhino with the mask and connection still attached -- he tore down the corridor past the line of terrified patients sitting awaiting their turn, a horde of white-coated students, a dentist and a doctor in hot pursuit. The roar echoed nasally through the mask as he bellowed his way out of the building and into the car park. By then the nitrous oxide was losing its effect and as the white coats caught up with him, he became docile once more, peering at us with a puzzled expression, while still wearing the little mask and curved connection on his nose.
My time in university was not just filled with laughter and study. Romance too, entered the picture.
In 1962, I was in my fourth year of Medical School. I had met a beautiful nurse who was unlike anyone I had met before. Her intense blue eyes and ready smile captivated me; yet there was a shy aloofness that kept me guessing, dreaming at night, and wanting to know her more. We were seeing one another almost every day. The name PENNY was doodled over most of my notes. I was treading cautiously, however, as I knew I must finish my studies before I could get truly serious -- and I still had nearly three years to go!
Then, on October 23rd of that year, 90 American navy ships and eight aircraft carriers circled the island of Cuba, while 25 Soviet vessels sailed towards them at full speed, carrying shipments of equipment to arm nuclear missiles for sites secretly built in Cuba, right under the nose of America’s intelligence. The world waited with bated breath, bracing itself for a nuclear war. According to reports from the White House, approximately 18 missiles were already operational and aimed at the cities of America. The conversations were of nothing else, as everyone sat glued to their radios.
The following day, the Soviet ships were still on course steaming towards the American blockade, and President Kennedy was not backing down.
On the 25th October, there was a tentative sigh of relief when it was reported that half the Soviet ships had either stopped or slowed down. Pictures reached our papers, however, of the missile sites in Cuba, with missiles in place. The relief was short-lived as news arrived that Russian submarines had been spotted accompanying the ships still sailing to Cuba, and an American spy plane had been shot down over Cuba. America prepared its nuclear arsenal for action.
When that happened, I telephoned my parents and told them that if there was a war, I was going to marry Penny right away. We wanted to be married if the world was entering World War III.
Two days later the Soviets backed down. The whole world exhaled in relief; but now my parents knew that Penny and I were serious about our relationship. However, we understood that we still had to wait for me to qualify before the wedding could take place. It was more than two years before Penny walked down the aisle and my life became complete. That was in 1964, two days after my graduation.
“Each heart knows its own bitterness and no-one else can share its joy“ (Proverbs 14:10)
Incidents from my days as a medical student return to my mind like blurred, half-forgotten dreams. Then the emotions that accompany them come flooding back, bringing the events sharply into focus.
I can feel my heart burning with anger, and a desire to run down the steps of the tiered lecture hall to protect a beautiful young woman on the podium, as she bowed her head in shame. She had been brought into the lecture theater at the start of the Dermatology lecture. We young men were struck by her lithe, curvaceous figure and beautiful blond hair worn loose, and reaching halfway to her waist. The Head of Dermatology, a gnome-like man with a harsh abrupt manner, interviewed her for a short while. Then he looked up at the class.
“Do any of you notice anything strange about this young lady?”
We could see nothing! A few students went up to her, looked more closely, and shook their heads.
“Look at her face, man. Look at her face.”
They looked, and again shook their heads.
Then one astute student remarked, “She has no eyebrows.”
With that, he grasped her beautiful hair and pulled. It came away in his hand. It was a wig. The lovely young girl was completely bald.
“Today we are going to talk about alopecia.”
A shocked silence swept through the auditorium. My mind is filled, as I recall it, with a vivid picture of the young lady sitting on a chair on the podium, her eyes fixed on the floor, in deep humiliation, not daring to look up. I feel the same rage, once more, that I felt towards the dermatologist, who used such a heartless way of introducing a condition where the person has no hair on their body.
The memory changes and I feel, again, confusion and a realization of how little we understand of the bigger picture -- how quick we are to think we know it all, and to blame God when things don't go the way we think they should.
I am standing beside the bed of a striking girl in her late twenties. She is in a deep coma and her brown braids frame a face that seems devoid of guile. She had attempted suicide and been brought into Groote Schuur barely alive. She is now off the critical list, and I am so relieved that an innocent, lovely life has been saved.
Six months later, she murdered her two children.
What huge hiatus had been overlooked in the treatment of this young woman? What emotional wounds, that caused her to take such shocking action, were left untouched as we “successfully” treated her physically? How we had failed her and her children! Not all I learned at medical school came from the textbooks! How much there is to learn about the deep, hidden things in the heart of man, that no didactic lecture can teach.
The next memory brings with it acute embarrassment. The final three years of University were clinical years, where we came into contact with real patients. It was exciting for us, but far less so for the patients -- especially those with a rare condition. Every time they were hospitalized, they were subjected to a stream of students allocated to examine them. Most patients took this with good humor, understanding that this was the price they paid for getting free treatment. Others were less amenable. Mr. Blake was one of the latter. He had von Willebrand's disease which is a bleeding disorder, not unlike hemophilia, and I had been told to examine him.
I knew I was in for a torrid time from the enormity of the sigh as I introduced myself to Mr. Blake, whose beady eyes looked heavenward for salvation and whose mouth turned down, deepening the wrinkles that crisscrossed his face. They were not laughter lines.
In our early clinical years, we could not merely focus on the obvious condition for which the patient was admitted to hospital; we had to use the opportunity to practice examining every system in every patient. Mr. Blake answered my probing questions about the state of his heart, his liver, his stomach and intestines, his urogenital system, his lungs and his neurological system with disgruntled monosyllables.
In spite of his muttered protests, I listened to his heart for murmurs and made him breathe deeply, my newly acquired stethoscope on his chest. I felt his stomach for enlarged organs or masses, asking him please to stop complaining for a while as it made his stomach rigid. Then it came to examining his nervous system. I shone my torch in his eyes, checked that he could hear the clicking of my fingers in each ear, asked him to grasp my hand, or push against a resistance to check for muscle weakness and tapped his tendons with a little hammer to check his reflexes, all the time feeling like a pariah as he groaned volubly about “these damned students.”
Then, to complete the examination of his nervous system I needed to check his sensation. Light touch: I ran a wisp of cotton wool over his forearms, then his legs. “Can you feel that? Say yes every time I touch you.”
“Yes.” “Yes.” “Damned students! Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes, for God’s sake!”
Then position sense. “I’m going to move your toe up and down. When you feel it move, tell me whether it is up or down.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Haven’t you done enough?”
“Is this up or down?”
“Just get out of here.”
“Is this up or down?”
“Good. And now?”“
“Get out of here.”
I aborted that test.
“Just one more test, Mr Blake. If you answer me quickly it’ll be over soon and I can go.”
Pinprick sensation: I took a pin and touched his arm.
“Do you feel that?”
He was co-operative -- no doubt to get me away from him as quickly as possible -- allowing me to test all four limbs as I gently pricked him.
I was about to move on to testing his abdomen for pinprick sensation when I stopped, looking aghast and close to panic at my patient. Trickling down from every pinprick on his arms and legs was a thin streak of blood heading for the bed sheet. I had forgotten Mr. Blake had a bleeding disorder.
“Mr. Blake. Thank you for putting up with me. I really have to go now.”
I practically ran out of the ward, and didn’t venture back until I was sure he had been discharged. I had nightmares for days of Mr Blake sitting in bed striped in red and muttering, “Damned students!”
With good reason!
“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which the Lord has prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10)
The day came for my final examinations. Patients with rare conditions or with obvious physical signs were shipped in for the occasion, and certain wards were out of bounds, so that we could not get a sneak preview. The patients varied in their response to the students, but they were probably getting paid, so they were all amenable. Nevertheless, some were keen to help us, while others remained pokerfaced in the way they answered our questions about their symptoms.
I moved from patient to patient as my name was called.
“I have this swelling in my groin, sir.”
“O.K. stand up and give a cough, while I feel there.”
He coughed, and I felt a swelling protrude as he did so. As I pressed a little higher, I could stop the swelling from appearing. An indirect hernia, and reducible. Good. I have my diagnosis. I was about to leave when he said, “I work in a shipyard, moving crates.”
He was one of those who were keen to help us students. “Oh, thank you.” Sure enough the examiner asked, “Anything that might have precipitated that hernia or made it worse?”
“Yes. He works in a shipyard carrying heavy things.”
There were a number of patients for me to examine. I saw a lady with an enlarged thyroid, patients with rickets, varicose veins, a bleeding disorder (thankfully, not Mr. Blake) and finally came to the session I dreaded.
We were examined by the head of each department as well as external examiners from another university. One of our external examiners for internal medicine had a mean reputation for being abrupt and rude. Like a bulldog, if a student bumbled through a topic, he hung mercilessly onto that subject with question after question, until the student’s confidence was destroyed. As I waited my turn to be examined by him, I saw girls coming out of their session with him in tears.
To my surprise, I found a real rapport with him. I correctly diagnosed, from his symptoms, that the patient had a brain tumor. On examination he had partial blindness in each eye. That placed the tumor where the optic nerves crossed one another in the brain. I could pinpoint the exact location of the tumor, we agreed on the type of tumor it was most likely to be, and on the best treatment.
I walked out of there on air. I had passed the most difficult test. From now it was plain sailing. My next examiner was Dr. Eugene Dowdle, the likable man with the stutter and sense of humor. I examined my patient and confidently made a diagnosis in a few minutes.
“I’m ready, Dr. Dowdle. The patient has an enlarged liver and spleen.”
Dr. Dowdle was poker-faced. “Oh, and what are the c-characteristics of an enlarged liver?”
“It moves downward as the patient takes a deep breath, and it has a dull sound to percussion.”
“And does this mass d-do that?”
I examined the patient again and my world caved in. “No.”
“So i-is it an enlarged liver?”
The patient had two enormously enlarged kidneys, not an enlarged liver and spleen.
I stumbled through the rest of the interview as if in a nightmare, as my carelessness in examining the patient was exposed with question after question. Never did the verse of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction.” seem more apt.
I left that examination convinced I had failed. I phoned my parents and warned them that we would have to cancel the wedding, scheduled for two days after graduation, and that they should be prepared for my spending another six months at Medical School.
However, my performance at the other examination stations must have outweighed my dismal performance with Dr. Dowdle for, as I pushed my way through the throng milling around the results board, I was able to add my own whoop of delight to those around me, when I saw my name there. I was now Dr. Walker M.B., Ch. B. (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery).
I rushed to tell my parents who had come from Zimbabwe for the double occasions of my graduation and my wedding, and reveled in the pride they felt for their eldest son.
My internship at Harare Hospital in Zimbabwe was a baptism by fire. With only four interns to cover a 1000 bed hospital, I lived in a constant state of exhaustion. I have described, in my first book, how my first case, when on call, was a small child whose arm had been bitten off by a crocodile. Other cases I saw were equal testimony to the extraordinary stamina of the rural Africans.
A man gored by an angry bull walked fifteen kilometers, clutching the edges of a cloth to his abdomen. The cloth contained his intestines which spilled out from a gaping wound in his abdominal wall. Another man survived a machinery accident that cut his throat open, severing his windpipe and tearing away part of his chest wall. I will never forget the sight of the man lying on the operating table gasping for breath through a slashed windpipe; his right lung could be seen collapsed and flopping helplessly with each breath through a gory hole in his chest. Yet, amazingly, he survived uneventfully -- testimony, as much to the tough physical resilience of the Africans we were treating, as to the skill of the surgeons and anesthetists.
It was during this hectic internship that the excitement of the Operating Room gripped me. It was not so much the thrill of operating on a person, as it was in caring for them holistically, while the surgeon was at work. I enjoyed taking control of their breathing, keeping a stable blood pressure and pulse, anticipating when the patient would bleed from the surgery and replacing the blood as it was lost. This is all part of the work of the anesthetist -- all the time, of course, making sure that the patient is unconscious and pain free. Although I was not aware of it at the time, God was calling me into the ministry that was going to define my life for the next forty years. Following my internship, I spent the next year as a Medical Officer in Anesthetics at Harare Hospital and then enrolled as a Registrar in Training in the Anesthetic Department at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
“How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver.” (Proverbs 16:16) NIV
As I enrolled at Groote Schuur, the world was bracing itself for a possible Armageddon. Tensions between Israel and the Arab nations had smoldered uneasily since the creation of the state of Israel, just 19 years before. Then, in 1967, as I came under the mentorship of some of the best anesthetists in the country, President Nasser of Egypt, attempting to boost his flagging popularity, amassed his troops on Israel’s border, with the overt intention of invasion. The world waited anxiously while Syria and Jordan joined Egypt for a war against Israel -- a war which seemed impossibly one-sided, as these large nations united against one of the smallest countries in the world.
What happened next shook the Middle East like an earthquake, the aftershocks of which have rumbled on to this day. In a series of pre-emptive attacks, Israel demolished the Egyptian air force before the planes could even leave the ground, and then took the Egyptian army by surprise in a ground offensive that left them fleeing in terror. Within a week, in what came to be known as the Six Day War, Israel was victorious and in control of Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan heights.
Meantime, I was feeling the thrill of acquiring new skills, not only in the realm of anesthetics, but in relating to my colleagues. I learned that the operating room is not called an operating theater for nothing. Much drama occurs there and the surgeon is the main actor. Many surgeons are drawn into their field by their very personalities. It is a dramatic, aggressive act to slice another person open, which in many instances attracts dramatic, aggressive people. This is not to denigrate them. For the most part, they are kind, compassionate people who have channeled their personalities into healing. Nevertheless, it does require a certain emotional intelligence to handle them tactfully when things get tense.
One surgeon vented his frustration, when things were not going right, by blaming it on the light.
“I can’t see! How am I expected to operate when I can’t see? Get the light in the wound, for God’ s sake!”
I developed a technique of moving the light away for a while, until his eyes were accustomed to the relative dark of the operating room. Then, when his pupils were sufficiently dilated, I moved the light back to where it was before and he’d be satisfied.
Some of the most dramatic moments I remember were at The Red Cross Children’s Hospital, where Professor Chris Barnard operated on babies and children with heart defects. Imaging techniques were rather primitive in those early days; sometimes an accurate diagnosis of the actual heart defect was difficult to make, especially when it was complex. I have seen Chris Barnard summon the imaging team into the operating room, glaring at them from over his mask.
“What did you say was wrrong with this heart?” His distinct Afrikaans accent cut through an atmosphere thick with tension.
The radiologist muttered his answer.
“Well, look what I’ve got! How do you expect me to operrate when you can’t give me the rright information! I need you to give me the rright information!”
Then, as they shuffled out shamefacedly, he set about using his genius, thinking on his feet and inventing a way to correct the abnormality so that the heart could function normally. To his credit, he never bore a grudge. He would flare up, but then it would all be over and forgotten.
I hasten to add that I was in no way in charge of the anesthetic for any of his operations. As a registrar in training I was often merely an observer under the tutelage of at least one senior consultant.
Even when I was present at the world’s first heart transplant, I was on call as a junior registrar in training on the night that it happened. I was summoned to resuscitate Denise Darvall, who had been fatally injured and was destined to be the donor. Thus, I was involved in all the excitement of that historic night, but once the cardiac anesthetic team was there, I was very peripherally involved. In fact, I was in a nearby operating room for most of the night while all the excitement happened next door. Nevertheless, it was a thrill to be there while medical history was in the making, and to be present at the breakfast that was arranged in the doctors’ tea room afterward. It was a celebration breakfast as everyone shook Chris Barnard’s hand in congratulations and wondered how long it would be in the news. Little did we anticipate that, like wave upon wave on the seashore, it would resound again and again around the world.
All the excitement of learning new skills in a calling I loved was against the almost subconscious awareness and wonder of the God of creation. While there was never a thought of interacting with Him personally -- I never prayed or read the Bible -- I marveled at God's miracle with the first cry of a brand new baby pulled from the wound of a Cesarean Section; I was amazed at His creative genius, when learning of the intricate, detailed workings of the human body; I felt a sense of being destined by God for my work as I learned, firstly, how to handle drugs that slipped a patient into unconsciousness, and then how to carry him safely through the operation, watching over the blood pressure, pulse and breathing.
I saw the evidence of God all around me, yet, when my brother was killed in a car accident, I did not have the personal experience of God that would permit me to lean on Him.
“Not having a righteousness of my own……. but that which is through faith in Christ.” (Phil.3:9) NIV
The magnificent cathedrals with their stained glass windows, echoing vastness, intricate carvings and pomp and ceremony reflect an aspect of God that is at once glorious, awe-inspiring and necessary. It speaks of His transcendent majesty; of how we cannot be flippant with Him and call Him “my buddy”, as I have heard some people do.
Yet there is another side to God. “I dwell on the high and holy place,” says God in Isaiah 57:15
[But also with the contrite and humble in spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the humble
And to revive the heart of the contrite [overcome with sorrow for sin]. (Amplified Bible)]
We are celebrating Christmas as I write this, and nothing speaks more loudly than the Babe in the manger, of God’s full identification with us. It is here, man to perfect man that we can call him Friend, for in Jesus, amazingly, we can have an intimacy with the God of all creation.
God had to lead me through a period of deep pain to this side of His character.
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In order to register as a specialist with the Medical Council, I was required to do a certain amount of time in a medical post that was not anesthetics, so when a Medical Officer post became available on the diamond mines in Oranjemund, Namibia, I jumped at the opportunity.
Oranjemund was a ‘closed’ town, owned and run by The Consolidated Diamond Mines. The only access was across a guarded bridge over the Orange River. Nothing that could conceal diamonds was allowed out of the town; and every time anyone left the town they were X-rayed to ensure they had not secreted uncut diamonds in any body part.
I parked my car in a garage allocated to me when I arrived at the banks of the Orange River, was driven over the bridge and deposited outside a cozy house. In the garage a brand new Peugeot was for my use. Because it was a closed town, where nothing that could not be X-rayed for diamonds was allowed out, our cars were perfectly safe. We left the keys in at all times. Often the garage mechanics, who kept a service record, would remove my car from the hospital where I had parked it, service it and replace it, without my knowledge. Petrol was free. I drove to the pump, my car was filled and the attendant waved me off. This led to an embarrassing situation on a visit to Cape Town. As the attendant filled my tank, I was talking to Penny. When the attendant had finished, absent-mindedly, I proceeded to drive off. I was suddenly jerked back to reality with a loud hammering on the roof of the car and an attendant throwing himself across the hood. In spite of my apology, I received some very suspicious looks as I said, lamely, “I’m sorry, but where I come from we don’t pay for petrol!”
My colleagues on the mine were good doctors and fun to work with — especially Goom (I never discovered whether that was his real name). His sense of humor kept us constantly amused.
“The women of the town are getting excited about the flower arranging competition, Goom.”
“Yes, I’ve entered.”
“What! I didn’t know you arranged flowers.”
“I don’t. I’m entering my mother-in-law as a dry arrangement.”
Such was the banter which kept me smiling.
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Stories abound of the idiosyncrasies of a town built purely as a mining town. It was built and furnished from scratch as a complete town. Every house had all the appliances necessary to make it comfortable. Of course, this included a stove. Unfortunately, the stoves installed were all electric, and the power station, being diesel, could not cope with the peak load at supper time, so every stove was replaced with one that ran on gas.
What to do with the electric stoves? It was deemed uneconomical to return them to Cape Town, so they used their massive earthmoving equipment to solve the problem. Oranjemund has the largest earthmoving equipment in the Southern Hemisphere. It is used to remove the desert sand, so that the diamonds can be mined in the alluvial beds below. Now, that equipment was used to dig a mighty hole, into which five hundred brand new stoves were tumbled and buried! It was an odd feeling while in the town to know that, a few hundred meters away, hundreds of pristine stoves lay buried in the sand ---silent testimony to the quirky wastefulness of a society where money is king.
There was purported to be an area, just outside Oranjemund, so rich in diamonds you could pick them up, with little effort, on a casual stroll through the precincts. It was called the Treasure Trove. Mining was not undertaken there.
The number of diamonds released each month was strictly controlled in order to maintain the scarcity factor and uphold the price. If the mine was short of its quota for the month, someone would merely go to the Treasure Trove and select enough diamonds to make up the deficit.
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I had been in town for two weeks when the company threw a welcoming party for me. It was in full swing and I was in a happy mood, helped on by a little too much alcohol, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Phone call for you, Dave.”
As I picked up the receiver I wondered who could be phoning at 11.00 pm.
I barely recognized Erica, my brother’s wife of just a few months.
“Dave, it’s Erica. Ray has been in a terrible car accident.” The party mood was still with me and I didn’t take her seriously. I should have, though. After all, hadn’t my fun-loving brother borrowed my car just a few months before, and returned it with a large dent down the side?
Erica’s voice, small and trembling, continued. “He’s not going to live, Dave.”
What? Ray, my funny, talented younger brother not going to live?
“Are you sure, Erica? There’s no mistake?”
“He’s terribly injured, Dave.” I could hardly hear her thin small voice.
I knew the doctors and contacted the neurosurgeon. He confirmed it. Ray, driving at speed without a seatbelt, had crashed into a concrete pillar, crushing his chest, bruising his heart and causing his skull to shatter against the windscreen. He would not survive the night.
Thus began a series of tragedies. With a sense of detachment from reality, and a heart that seemed to burst with pain, I buried my brother five days later; his pregnant wife was by my side. We watched Erica go through her pregnancy without my brother beside her, and had her and her little daughter, Deirdre to stay for a while with us in Oranjemund.
We moved back to Cape Town, where we were close to Erica and Deirdre, and spent many happy times with them. But within two years, tragedy struck once more. Erica died suddenly of a mysterious illness, leaving behind seventeen month old Deirdre, whom we adopted. Erica had barely been gone a few months when her mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and died.
Suddenly, life was fragile and cheap. Like a discordant tune, the ache in my heart flooded each waking moment and left me bereft and disillusioned. My high and lofty God was not enough to soothe the deep ache, nor the intense sorrow; His very loftiness and glory was so far removed from the helpless despair that gripped me. Yet the God who dwelt in cathedrals and hallowed places was the only God I knew.
I went on a thirteen year journey of burying myself in my work, striving for excellence in a selfish bid for my own glory, yet longing for a more personal God.
Then, in one dramatic moment, He took the initiative and revealed Himself to me in the person of Jesus.
I went rather skeptically to a healing service, thinking that if someone claimed to be healed, as a doctor I would be able to see if it was genuine. However, such was the love in that place that I stayed behind afterward for prayer.
“I’m disillusioned with God.” I said. “He seems so distant, as if He’s just wound up the universe and is watching it slowly wind down, without caring about the springs that are failing and the cogs that are sticking.”
The couple who listened were understanding, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. After praying for me, the man looked me directly in the eyes. “You seem to be a very self-sufficient, capable person. Perhaps God seems distant because you are not giving Him a chance to get involved. Why don’t you ask Him to help you in whatever you do, and thank Him when it is successful?”
I nodded. I was willing to try anything.
“Oh, and like any relationship, you need to start to communicate with God. The only way is through reading your Bible and praying regularly.”
I followed his advice doggedly. Though I had done it possibly a thousand times before without His apparent help, I asked God to help me every time I inserted an IV or put a tube into the patient’s windpipe, and thanked Him when it was successful. I tried to pray, though the only prayers I could remember were the Lord’s Prayer and a little bedtime prayer my mother had taught me. The only Bible I could find in the house was an old King James version and I got lost in the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and ‘verilys’.
Then, at four o’clock in the morning on the fourth day of doing this, Jesus came. He was so real; I truly thought it was His Second Coming and that everyone must be experiencing Him as I was. I got up from my bed and spent the time in my lounge simply worshiping Him, until I had to go to work. It was a dramatic encounter with the living God, after which I could not remain silent. Suddenly He was close, intimate and waiting for me to interact with Him in prayer, thus allowing Him to intervene. I had discovered the other side of God — His intimate closeness — and I remember, one day in my Quiet Time with Him, thinking Everything I hoped God was, I now know He is.
I once heard someone say, commenting on the 23rd Psalm, which says surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, that we need to look back to see what is following us. In my pain and disillusionment, I did not see the hand of God as He moved imperceptibly, molding me until I was desperate for Him. Yet, as I look back, how very aware I am of His goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life.
From that day on, I started telling my patients about a God who was faithful if we would but trust Him, and I offered to pray with them.
This book is the story of how God responded to those prayers and the prayers of others. I trust you will find, in these pages, a God who answers prayer, who does not always act in the way we expect and yet who always responds in some way to those who call out to Him.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1Cor. 1:27) NIV
Although there were mockers at the hospital, and friends who deserted me, my life was filled with joy and sheer inner exuberance as I experienced the reality that God is with us in all that we do, ready to respond to our prayers. A few days after my radical experience of God, I decided to buy a Bible. I parked my car in town, and then realized I had no clue where to find a Bible shop. I prayed, “God, I’ve never done this before, but I’m asking You to show me where there is a Bible shop.” Imagine my delight when I walked down the street, took a right turn after a couple of blocks and there, before me, was a Methodist Bookshop. It was my first experience of directly answered prayer and from then on, no amount of skepticism could stop me. I prayed with my patients, I offered to pray with colleagues, I prayed for the people in the car in front of me in traffic jams, I prayed for beggars who asked me for money and I prayed, of course, for my family. While I lost a few friends and endured some ridicule, I found new friends who loved Jesus and I saw God respond to my prayers in wonderful ways.
On my preoperative round, my usual approach to my patients was to examine them and get the medical side of things sorted out. Often the surgeon, in his round with the sister, was intimidating, and I would be the first person the patient felt safe enough to ask about what would happen in the operating room. I tried to familiarize them with the procedure, and then said something like this:
“I just want to tell you that I am a committed Christian, and I have seen the way God responds to us when we entrust these difficult times to Him. I’d love to say a prayer with you for tomorrow, if you’d like me to.”
Sometimes, of course, I would feel a nudge not to pray for a particular patient, but I usually prayed with them unless there was a definite prompting not to. It was not always easy to pray with my patients; there was always the fear of offending someone, although I tried not to be coercive in any way. I remember visiting a large man, built like a wrestler, with a Men’s Health and a hunting magazine beside his bed.
I held out my hand as I entered his ward. “Hello, I’m Dr. Walker and I’ll be giving you the anesthetic for your operation tomorrow.”
“Hrmph!” He gave my hand a quick shake.
Then I went through my usual questions.
“Any previous operations?”
“Any medication? Allergies?”
All my questions were answered in a grunt or a monosyllable. I was not connecting.
At the end of it, rather intimidated, I was tempted to just move on to my next patient. But I knew the check in my spirit was from fear of this macho man and what he might think, not from the Lord. I took a deep breath and offered to pray with him if he would like.
I prayed. He gave no response and I left thinking I wonder if I should have done that?
I visited him with a little trepidation the day after his operation and was surprised to be greeted with a big smile.
“Come in, Dr. Walker. Come in.”
“How are you doing, Mr. Jacobs?”
“I’m doing fine. A bit sore, of course, but fine.”
He was friendly and ready to talk.
After some small talk, he said, “Thank you so much for praying for me, Doc. I can’t tell you what it meant. I was terrified when I came in. Could hardly speak. But after you prayed, a peace came over me and I went into the operation as calm as anything.”
Jesus breathes peace. Whenever He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, His first words were either, “Don’t be afraid” or, “Peace be with you.” He is the Prince of Peace.
I have found there is a big difference between saying to someone, “I’ll pray for you,” and actually praying with them. Time and again my patients expressed a calmness, allaying their fear before an operation, as I prayed with them, and their hearts were opened for God to do His work of peace.
I seldom had anyone refuse prayer. There was, however, one man who broke my heart. That was George. I entered his ward on my preoperative round and he greeted me with a friendly smile.
“Hello Mr. Stafford. I’m Dr. Walker and I’m going to be putting you to sleep for your operation tomorrow.”
“And wake me up afterward I hope.”
It was my turn to smile. “That’s part of the deal. They’re going to be opening your tummy. Have they told you what for?”
He was perfectly at ease. “I’ve got something nasty in there apparently.”
“Do you mind if I have a feel?”
As I laid my hand on his stomach, I felt my heart recoil. It was as if I had seen a black hood placed over the head of someone about to be executed. A hard, craggy lump extended from his ribs down to his lower abdomen. There was no doubt, from its hardness and the rough uneven edge that this was cancer. I wondered if George knew the seriousness of his condition; he seemed so cheerful and unconcerned.
I offered to pray with him before his operation but he politely declined. “Sorry, I’m an atheist. Don’t believe God exists.”
The operation confirmed what was obvious clinically. A wicked looking cancer had spread beyond the scope of any surgery, other than a minor procedure to make sure the cancer did not obstruct his bowel.
I went to see him afterward. He looked as cheerful as he had been before his operation.
“The surgeon has spoken to you?”
“So you know the prognosis?”
“Yes, not good.” He might have been talking about the weather.
“I’d love to pray with you. I’ve seen God do some wonderful things in the lives of people with your kind of prognosis.”
“No thanks, I’m an atheist”
I could not stay away from him, however. He was such a likable man who would soon be gone, but who did not seem to appreciate the dire straits he was in. I visited him daily. He was always cheerful and friendly. I longed to discuss the deeper issues of life, but the conversation was always superficial.
It was bizarre. Here was a man who had barely a few months to live and all we spoke about was the cricket score, the weather or the pretty nurses. Every day I offered to pray with him and every day his reply was the same. “No thanks. I’m an atheist.”
Finally George was discharged from hospital. He left a card for me which would have been funny if my heart was not crying for him. It read:
Dear Dr. Walker
Thank you very much for your kindness in visiting me each day while I was in hospital. I looked forward to your visits.
God bless you.
God bless you?
As well as praying with my patients, I also made friends in surprising places with others in the hospital who loved Jesus. Two of the porters who worked in the operating room were passionate about the Lord. They were uncomplicated folk with a simple outlook on life, but I sometimes think that is an advantage. The gospel message is essentially a simple one -- God loved the world so much that He was willing to die for us so that we can be in a loving relationship with Him — and while we can marvel at the depths of the wisdom and glory of Christmas and Calvary, we can also get entangled in trying to reason out what is far beyond reason. Anthony and Brian had no such problem. They just loved Jesus because He had forgiven them.
Anthony had suffered brain damage as a child. It left him with a speech impediment in which all his words ran together in rapid speech. “WonderfulServiceonSunday. WonderfulWonderful. SpiritMovingDrWalker.”
I loved talking to him and Brian because of their simple faith that put my intellectual, doubting colleagues to shame.
One day a thunderstorm was raging outside. The air was dark and ominous. Torrents of rain threw themselves angrily against the operating room windows, and a split second blinding light was followed almost immediately with the crackle and roar of thunder. Anthony was standing at a window looking at the spectacle. One of my mocking partners decided to have a little fun with him. Sidling up to him he said, “Just think, Anthony, that lightning could come right through the window and strike you dead.”
Anthony tilted his head to one side, gave him a crooked smile and looked at him through shining blue eyes. “DrChadwick. ForMeInstantDeathIsInstantGlory!” That silenced my partner and delighted me, as I chuckled inwardly at my simple friend’s wisdom.
I also discovered that many of the nursing sisters I worked with were Christians, and it was a pleasure to be able to pray with them, either about their situation or about the patients in their care. Sometimes they were outspoken about their faith and not afraid to include me in their outspokenness.
Celia was in charge of the ICU at Grey’s Hospital. If we had prayed with a patient, she always included it in her daily report to the Matron’s Office:
[_ An uneventful day. Still on the ventilator. Oxygenation good on 35% inspired oxygen. Vital signs stable. Fluid balance good. _]
Prayed and laid hands by myself, and with Dr. Walker and Sisters Stewart and Goodall.
I was greatly encouraged by these believers, especially in the early days of my walk with Jesus. Somehow, when I had been mocked or was the object of a sarcastic remark, God always put a believer across my path to encourage me.
As I grew in my walk with Jesus, however, and saw Him work in wonderful ways in response to prayer, I became more confident and had fewer disparaging remarks. When I prayed, I no longer hoped God would work; I expected Him to work.
On one occasion my senior partner, knowing my interest in ICU, asked me to take over a patient of his who was steadily deteriorating. When I looked at the way my partner was managing him, I could not see anything I could add to his treatment. I changed nothing in his management; I merely started praying with the patient and he improved, and was discharged from ICU a week later.
The nursing staff, too, encouraged to pray with their patients, saw remarkable results. This is one of them:
Marie was a young university student who was in love. Each day she looked forward to the end of lectures when John picked her up on his way home from work. Time with him was music and song. The trees and flowers shone with the luminance of young, passionate love and the air was fragrant with deep conversations as she shared her heart comfortably and freely with the man she loved. She did not notice that he was not sharing his heart with her. Until he stopped coming. He had moved to the next girl.
In a fit of depression, Marie swallowed a bottle-full of paracetamol.
As the paracetamol entered the liver, the cells there processed it by combining it with another molecule, ready for excretion. But the paracetamol kept coming. Marie’s liver, desperate to inactivate it, broke it down to smaller molecules. One of these, however is toxic and attacked the liver cells. If one could have looked at Marie’s liver, it would have been pale and swollen, filling with fat it could not process. The cells were dead or dying. Her only hope was a liver transplant.
Marie was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit while on the waiting list, because she was being cared for by a physician. I visited Coronary Care occasionally for fellowship with the Christian nursing staff and, one day, saw Marie and heard her story.
I looked at the young blond girl in the bed. She was semi-conscious and deeply yellow, sighing with each breath as the toxins, which were unable to be excreted by the dead liver, poured acid into her system.
How deeply the young feel, I thought. How world-shattering and overwhelming is rejected love. How close the horizons of their lives that they cannot see anything beyond the immediate crisis.
It was a race against time for Marie. Many patients die before a liver is available. Would Marie be one of them?
I did not visit the Coronary Care Unit for another fortnight. When I did, Marie’s bed was empty.
“What happened to Marie? Did they find a liver, or did she die?
The sisters smiled. “Neither. She got better.”
“What? She was in a coma from liver failure.”
“Yes. We prayed for her and after three days she opened her eyes. By the end of the week her jaundice had gone and she was discharged. The doctor admitted that he’d never seen that before. He said it was a miracle.”
“ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) NIV
I had to live with the reality that not everyone was comfortable with my new-found faith. Many were guarded, and some dropped me from their social circle altogether. My friend John was one of the latter. He immediately disengaged, though previously we had spent many happy hours together, so I was surprised, one day as I picked up the phone, to hear John’s voice.
“Hello, Dave. How are you keeping?”
“Well, thanks John. Nice to hear from you. How are you?”
“I’m well, but I’m wondering if you can visit my neighbor, Dorothy. She has a health problem and I’m sure she’d appreciate some prayer.”
The door to Dorothy’s home was opened by a plump lady with brown curly hair, and eyes that shone as she smiled a welcome and ushered me into her sitting room. Tea and crumpets were set out on the table in fine bone china. A Persian cat, lying comfortably on a chair, gave me a grumpy stare before choosing to ignore me. I glanced out of the picture window onto a vista of rolling hills covered in a forest of pine trees. It was an idyllic setting. As she poured the tea and offered me a plate of crumpets, Dorothy had a calmness about her, and yet an inner energy that seemed about to burst forth. No-one could have guessed that this was the setting of a tragedy.
With pleasantries over tea finished, I finally asked her, “Tell me your story, Dorothy.”
She spoke matter-of-factly, but there was an underlying edge to her voice. “I noticed my urine getting a little dark, and I wasn’t enjoying my food, especially the fatty ones, which I normally love, as you can see.” She smiled and, in illustration, pulled shyly at her full cheeks.
“I went to the doctor who did blood tests and then sent me for a scan.”
She paused for a long time, gazing out of the picture window.
“There’s a tumor on my pancreas. A tumor is cancer isn’t it, doctor?” She was still looking out of the window
Not all tumors are cancerous, but in her case I knew it was. I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
She was quiet. I continued, “I don’t know what you will be going through in the next few months, Dorothy, but I can tell you that Jesus is with you. If you lean on Him and trust in Him, He will take care of you.”
“What can I expect?”
I didn’t know. I had no clinical examination or imaging to assess. “I don’t know, Dorothy. It all depends on the investigations. But whatever you are going through, I’d be happy to pray.”
After a while I stood up to go and she stood too. I took her hand and said, “May I pray with you now?” She bowed her head and I said a simple prayer asking Jesus to be with her in all she was to go through, and to touch her and heal her. The peace of God filled the room. As she guided me to the door she remarked, “What a beautiful prayer,” and I knew she too had sensed His presence.
I did not hear from Dorothy again.
Nine months later I received another call from John to tell me that Dorothy had been admitted to hospital. I went to visit her and was shocked by the change. She was not gaunt and haggard as so many people with terminal cancer become, but her face had the strained, distracted look of someone in pain. Her hair was growing again after the chemotherapy she had received, but which proved to be in vain.
Most striking though, was her color. The pancreas and the gall bladder have a common entry into the intestine. When a cancer affects the pancreas it often blocks that portal that it shares with the gall bladder, so that the bile cannot enter the gut; it accumulates in the blood and colors all the tissues yellow. It is first apparent in the whites of the eyes, which become yellow. Then the skin becomes a deep bronze as the bile collects there.
Dorothy tried to smile when she saw me, but I could tell it was an effort. “Thank you for coming, doctor.” She grimaced as she spoke.
“Call me Dave. I’m not here as your doctor, Dorothy. I’ve come to pray with you.”
“Well, I’m glad you came. I’m very sore.”
“Yes, I can see that. We won’t pray long. Then I’ll see if the sister can give you something more for the pain.”
I took her hand in mine and laid my other hand on her shoulder. I wondered how to start. She clearly could not focus too much on what I was saying in her distress. I murmured, half under my breath, “Praise You, Lord.”
To my surprise, Dorothy’s hand relaxed in mine and she fell asleep.
So that’s it, Lord? You just want us to praise You?
I continued praising God and worshiping Him for another 15 minutes. Dorothy was relaxed and at peace. Of course, I also prayed for healing. Then I tiptoed out of the ward.
The following day I visited her again. I could hear her groaning before I reached her ward. She was in pain and I lost no time with small talk, but immediately offered to pray with her. Again, as I praised God she relaxed and was asleep within a few minutes.
I was trusting that God was healing her at the same time as granting her such relief, but her jaundice became deeper and deeper and she started to lose weight. Yet every time I prayed with her and we praised God, she obtained instant relief from her pain. I tried to see her every day and the nursing staff began waiting for me. I’d pop in to the sister’s duty room and she’d say, “Oh, Doctor Walker, You’ve come to give Dorothy her prayer therapy?”
Within a couple of weeks her pain seemed to be more under control, but now another distressing problem arose. When the bile salts cannot find their way into the intestine where they help with digestion, they accumulate under the skin. Here they crystallize and the crystals become an irritant. Like a thousand ants crawling around under her skin, she was tortured with an itching that some have described as worse than any pain.
The bile was also being deposited in her brain and she was getting drowsy. She thrashed about in the bed, half conscious, moaning and scratching uncontrollably. Yet, I just had to lay my hand on her and say, “Praise You, Lord!” and she settled. Then, as I continued to praise Him, she drifted off to sleep and God’s peace rested on the room.
It became part of my routine each day to go to the ward and pray with Dorothy as soon as I could, so she could settle for the day; I became impatient if I could not get there early, as I knew she might be in torment.
One day I was getting changed into my Operating Room clothes when word came that the surgeon would be a few minutes late. “Good!” I thought, “I just have time to pop up to Dorothy.”
There are only a few times when I have heard the voice of God so distinctly that I had no doubt it was Him. This was one of them. It was not an audible voice, but it came as distinct words in my head.
“No need to go, David”
I tried to argue with God. “I need to go. She could be suffering.”
“No need to go, David”
It was not a message I wanted to hear, but it was a wonderful experience to hear God so clearly, and I submitted.
As soon as the operating list was over, I phoned the ward.
“How is Dorothy?”
“I’m sorry, doctor, she died peacefully earlier this morning.”
What a small window we have into God’s eternal purposes and His ways. Sometimes all we can do is to be obedient to what we sense He is telling us, without trying to second guess His plans. Why did He only respond to praise? When I pleaded with Him to take away Dorothy’s pain, He was silent, but when I praised him He acted. And why did He respond by bringing temporary relief, which required my persistently praying again and again? In situations like these the Word comes alive when it says, “Now we see as in a poor reflection.” What an apt description for us fallen creatures, who view God’s ways through imperfect knowledge and the distortions of selfish desires and short horizons.
Though I longed for a different outcome for Dorothy, I could not deny that God had touched her deeply, bringing her merciful rest from pain and the torture of uncontrollable itching. Though He chooses His own way, when we call to Him, it has been my experience that He always responds with His presence.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments,
and His paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Eph.6:18) NIV
It was a Saturday afternoon. I was about to start an anesthetic at St Anne’s Hospital for an emergency appendectomy, when the sister from the Female Surgical Ward phoned. “Dr. Walker, please come to the ward when you’ve finished and have a look at a patient here, who doesn’t look well.”
Halfway through the operation, a general practitioner popped his head into the theater. “Dave, please go and see a patient in the Surgical Ward when you have finished. She had a minor op this morning and she’s not looking good.”
I was attending to my patient in the Recovery Room after his appendectomy when I had another phone call from the sister. “Dr. Walker, we need you urgently in the Female Surgical Ward.”
As I dashed to the bedside of a young woman in her early thirties, I glanced at the monitor. Her blood pressure was low, her heart was racing and her oxygen level was dropping. She lay, semi-conscious, behind an oxygen mask, thrashing restlessly on the bed. I felt her wrist for a pulse. As I touched her, the heat radiated off her. Her pulse was barely palpable.
“What’s the story?”
“She had a D and C (a scraping of the womb) this morning. She was complaining of pain in her abdomen afterward, and now she’s going rapidly downhill. She was not like this when I phoned you before you started operating.”
I could see she was in grave septic shock, and on the point of dying. “Adrenaline, quickly, and another IV line. And call an ambulance. I can’t treat her here. She needs to go to Grey’s.”
St Anne’s is a private hospital with good facilities, but I could see I’d need the more sophisticated equipment in the state hospital, if I was going to save her. (St. Anne’s now, many years later, has excellent facilities.)
The ambulance was there in half an hour, but even in that short time, she was fully dependent on heart stimulants to keep her alive. As the ambulance -- which had minimal monitoring -- careened through the streets of Pietermaritzburg with its sirens blaring, I sat beside her with one hand on her pulse and the other gripping a syringe of adrenaline. Every time her pulse disappeared beneath my fingers, I gave a little squirt of adrenaline until I could feel it once more.
The nurse accompanying us told me the story. Samantha was a single mom, with a son aged seven and a daughter aged nine. She had had an intrauterine contraceptive device inserted a few months ago. It had become infected and the general practitioner had removed it via a womb scrape. In doing so, he must have perforated the uterus with the instrument, and the infection had entered her bloodstream.
In Grey’s ICU she went into a coma and I put her on a ventilator. For hour after hour I poured all the cardiac drugs at our disposal into her, till I reached the maximum dose for each one. Still her blood pressure was desperately low — too low for her to survive.
I was praying earnestly, Lord, don’t let her die. She has two small children depending on her. Please guide me. I need to know what to do. I asked the Christian nurses to pray. Clutching at straws, I tried a drug which had been used in the past, but which had received bad press recently from adverse side effects.
“Sister, get me some isoprenaline.” Cautiously, I ran it through her IV. Almost immediately her blood pressure rose and stayed up on a small dose. Thank You, Lord. You answer prayer in amazing ways. Now I could relax for a while and catch my breath. I looked at the clock. It was 5 a.m. Time for some sleep before I started my afternoon list.
I was woken at 10 am by the ICU sister. “Please come, Dr. Walker, Sam is bleeding.”
Samantha was lying in a great pool of blood which was pouring from between her legs. Tom, a gynecologist was there and had already started pumping blood into her through three IV lines.
“We need to operate, Dave. It’s her only chance. I need to get that uterus out.”
“She’s in septic shock, Tom, and her ability to clot has gone. I don’t know if I can keep her alive through an anesthetic. And she’ll bleed wherever you cut her. Her blood can’t clot.”
“If we don’t operate, she’ll die. We have to go in.”
“It’s impossible, Tom. She’s only just surviving on all I’m giving her. An op will kill her.”
“Any other suggestions? We have to go in and stop the bleeding and remove the source of infection.”
He was right.
I rounded up the Christian nurses. “Let’s pray.” We had little time. Our prayers were hasty, but God looks at the heart not at the form of our prayers. I called a colleague to help with the anesthetic and went into the Operating Room with all my senses on high alert. I would need God every step of the way.
Miraculously, with three cardiac drugs running at full speed through her IV, 20 liters of blood pouring through her veins to replace what was lost, another 10 liters of plasma and clotting factors and a highly skilled surgeon, she made it through the operation.
God’s miracles are not always spectacular acts which demand no effort on our part. Often He includes us in their outworking. We play our part and He works through us to do far and above what we could ever achieve on our own. Without a miracle, the chances of Samantha surviving an operation under those circumstances were negligible.
For the next few days her life hung in the balance. Her blood was still not clotting after the operation. Though it was now manageable, she was still bleeding and needed constant transfusion. Then, on the third day, she stopped bleeding and we breathed a sigh of relief. She stabilized and I was able to take her off most of the cardiac drugs.
Two days later, while she was still on a ventilator for her breathing, I looked with alarm at her hands and feet. They were turning a dark blue. Over the next few days they turned from blue to purple to black. They were dying. The black crept up from her toes, up her feet, past her ankles, and from her fingers past her wrists. There are many reports of patients surviving severe septicemia, but left with stumps of arms and legs as their peripheries die and need amputation.
I called the nurses and we prayed morning and afternoon around Sam’s bed, calling on God to have mercy.
Then, wonderfully, over the next two weeks, we saw the edges of the black area slowly become purple, then red, then pink as new life, little by little, crept down over her wrists and ankles, down into her hands and feet. Finally all her limbs were pink once more. All she lost were the very tips of her toes and fingers.
Sam required blood filtration for three weeks because her kidneys failed. The shock and massive blood replacement also affected her lungs and she was on a ventilator for over a month.
Many times, she went through a crisis with a collapsed lung or a drug reaction, but she was enveloped in continuous prayer and God was faithful. With each complication, she pulled through.
Everyone in the hospital heard about Sam -- how hard everyone had worked to keep her alive, and how God had honored their hard work and their continuous prayers. As I walked the corridors of Grey’s Hospital I’d be stopped often, with the same question: “How’s Sam?”
And all the time she was improving, yet she lay in a deep coma, unresponsive except for withdrawing her legs and arms to a pinch.
Then one day, just when I began to think she had irreversible brain damage, she opened her eyes. What a celebration there was.
From then on there was no looking back. Soon she was walking and took strolls along the corridor. Much to her puzzlement, people would stop her and exclaim, “It’s Sam! Hello Sam.” She’d been unconscious and had no idea who these people were, (though many had visited her in the ward), and how her miraculous story had permeated the hospital.
My greatest delight was to see her children rush into the ward and hug their mom who responded with tears of joy.
Six months after she was discharged, I was in my garden at home when an attractive blond lady appeared at the gate. I hardly recognized her. Sam was holding down a demanding job with a real estate company and was in perfect health. She had brought me a jersey to say thank you. It is one of my treasured possessions, for it speaks to me of God’s faithfulness as we pray.
“Come to me all who are labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) NKJ
I was supervising an anesthetized patient at Victoria Hospital when a Medical Officer rushed into theater. “I’ll take over. They need you outside.”
There was a flurry of activity at the theater entrance as nurses and doctors rushed a trolley into the corridor.
“Over here. Quickly. Over here.” The theater matron, holding open the door, indicated an unused theater. The doctors hurtled with the trolley to the open door, while I rushed to their side. On the trolley, a young boy of about eighteen lay gasping for breath. His eyes rolled backwards in his head as he lapsed into unconsciousness before focusing once more, and groaning.
“Stabbed in the heart,” the surgeon said tersely. Then I saw the wound in his left chest at the level of his fourth rib. As we reached the operating room door, his eyes turned up and stayed up. He stopped breathing. I felt his neck for a pulse. There was none.
“Cardiac arrest!” I shouted as I thrust a tube down his throat and pumped oxygen into his lungs, while we pushed him beside the operating table and swung him over.
After a cursory wipe with iodine, the surgeon sliced open the young man’s chest, plunged his hand into the wound and started massaging the heart, while I continued to pump oxygen into his lungs.
All the functional operating rooms were occupied when they rushed the young man into theater. The room the matron had indicated, was being used as a store room. It contained only an operating table and an anesthetic machine. There was no monitoring equipment whatsoever. All I could do was to look into the wound to see if the heart was beating. I had given adrenaline when his heart stopped and to my relief I saw that vital, miraculous pump, that beats continuously over two and a half billion times in the average lifetime, start to heave against the surgeon’s hand.
The heart is enclosed in a sheet of tissue (called the pericardium), fitting exactly into that sac. Sometimes, when the heart is stabbed with a thin instrument, instead of a gush of blood draining from the wound and killing the patient, blood leaks from the wound with every beat and fills that pocket that contains the heart. As blood accumulates in this pocket, there is less and less room for the heart to expand. With each beat, blood squirts through the hole in the heart muscle into the pocket surrounding it and compresses the heart even more. In the same way the struggling of a man in quicksand makes him sink even deeper, so each desperate beat of the heart merely strangles it more. The combination of the surgeon’s cutting the sac around the heart and my giving adrenaline was enough to re-start the young man’s heart.
Of course, things were by no means under control. With no monitoring at all, I had no idea what the patient’s blood pressure was, his oxygen level or the state of his brain after his cardiac arrest. All I could do was to look at his heart through the wound to make sure it was still beating, and to feel for a carotid pulse in his neck.
And now, with the pericardial sac no longer containing the blood, he was bleeding profusely through the wound in his heart. I was pouring blood through his IV, attempting to keep up with what was being lost. Twice, as the surgeon put a stitch in the heart, it responded to the needle prick with a flurry of beats that gave the heart no time to fill, causing the pulse beneath my fingers to disappear.
“No pulse, Shaun. No pulse.”
Shaun withdrew the needle till I’d given a drug to make the heart less irritable.
Finally, the hole in the heart was repaired, the bleeding arrested, and I had caught up with the blood replacement. By this time I had managed to put an old-fashioned mercury blood pressure machine on his arm and to thread a catheter into his neck and down to his heart to measure the pressure there.
People have asked me if I pray under those hectic circumstances. I find it impossible to consciously pray; there is too much occupying my mind. My consciousness of God's presence with me during those frantic times -- the sense that he is with us, however, depends on my spiritual preparedness beforehand. If I've had time with God reading His Word, journaling and praying, I have a greater sense of my dependence on Him. I have found that the "spade work" in our Christian walk is so important, as it is in any walk. People well versed in their subject and who have practiced and timed their speech are far more likely to be influential when giving a talk; a gardener who researches what he is planting and the conditions it likes, is far more likely to have a flourishing garden. Spending time with Jesus makes it easier to let Him guide you in times of crisis.
With the young man more stable, I had time to hear his story.
Sibongile had been in custody in prison for over two years, awaiting trial. In the iniquitous South African bureaucracy, a person awaiting trial, and therefore not yet acquitted nor convicted, does not fall under the Department of Justice. He therefore cannot participate in any of the rehabilitation or occupational therapy programs offered by that department. There are no activities available for these people, some of whom are incarcerated for years before being brought to trial. Sibongile had been sitting around, day after dreary day for two years, with nothing to do. He had had an argument with a fellow bored prisoner and been stabbed with a table knife.
He was in ICU for a week before being transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital where he made an uneventful recovery. Happily, his brain seemed intact. Yet he seemed deeply traumatized by the event. Whenever I tried to pray with him, before his transfer, he merely stared at me with wide, terrified eyes.
For months afterwards, I could not forget that petrified face -- especially the wide eyes. Whenever I walked past the store room that became the operating room for that dramatic tussle for a young man's life, my gratitude for the outcome was tempered with a vision of his face in constant panic, perhaps re-living again and again, the knife in his chest, the frenetic rush to hospital or the oblivion as he arrested at the operating room door. The tear in his physical heart was mended, but the heart of his spirit was still torn, and beating desperately against a fear that was strangling him spiritually. I could not get out of my mind the picture of line upon line of boys, young men and older ones -- some innocent of any crime -- sitting with absolutely nothing to do all day as they waited for an eternity, for their case to be brought to trial. Thus, when an invitation was issued at our church to prayer walk through Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town every month, I felt compelled to go.
“I was in prison and you came to visit Me.” (Matt. 25:36) NIV
“No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” Nelson Mandela
Like the bouncing balls in a lottery wheel, fear, excitement, a kind of inner joy, a desperate compassion and a guarded reserve tumbled around inside me in a jumble of emotions. I had joined over a hundred and fifty people from churches across Cape Town to prayer walk through Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town.
After a strict security check, we had all met in a large hall for a time of vibrant, noisy worship led by an enthusiastic group of ex-prisoners with a trumpet, a guitar, a ukulele and a saxophone. While all races were represented in the crowd gathered for prayer, the majority was from the Colored community, who are warm, enthusiastic and loudly vocal in their love for Jesus. It was thrilling to raise the roof in praises to God before Jonathan, the leader of the prayer initiative, addressed us.
“Tonight we will be going through the men’s high security section and through solitary. Please remember, stick together for security reasons and no touching of the prisoners. Look them in the eyes. Make contact with them that way. Let them see the love in your eyes and hear your prayers.”
The group I had joined, under the auspices of Hope Prison Ministries, meets once a month to prayer walk through the prison. They show the love of Jesus to a desperate group of people. Jesus had such compassion for these folk that He identified with them, saying that if we visited them, we were, in fact, visiting Him. “When did we see You sick or visit You in prison?” and the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly I say to you inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:39-40 NKJV)
As we walked down the corridor, I saw hands and faces pushed against the grated windows in an effort to make contact. I pressed my hand against theirs, thumb to thumb and finger to finger with the grate separating us, and prayed for prisoner after prisoner. In some places the grating had broken and a hand and arm was extended through the grate, desperate for a touch. The place reverberated with song as those who were prayer walking sang to the prisoners. Echoing through the passages came a pulsating Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face. Alive, Alive, Alive Forever More followed, to the background buzz of people praying, calling on God for grace and a manifestation of His love.
My heart was churning. I knew enough of South African prisons to know that a new prisoner stood a high chance of being raped by the other inmates and that, as a result, the incidence of HIV/AIDS in the prison population is double that in the general population.
What were these incarcerated men experiencing that was far beyond my experience to comprehend? Had they been forced into a gang? And if not, were they being raped for refusing? How many were being hardened by their contact with veteran criminals? How many were innocent and still awaiting trial?
“Jesus loves you,” I said over and over again, feeling that it was totally inadequate for their situation. Yet so often it seemed to be what they longed to hear. In corridor after corridor, faces, pressed to the grating, called out, “Pray for me, pastor.” Bibles were held up by some, longing for recognition — longing to be more than just a number — with the desperate call, “I love Jesus.”
We then walked to the solitary confinement cells. I had no idea what crimes the men behind the grates had committed, but their faces lit up as we peered in. Small holes had been cut away in the grating and, once again, hands reached out, longing for interaction with another person. I prayed and walked on to cell upon cell.
Then something recoiled inside me as I saw him. He looked at me through the grate with contempt in his eyes and a scowl on his scarred, embittered face. My first reaction was to walk right past, intimidated and defensive, but I felt the Holy Spirit say, “You’re here to pray. Will you exclude him from your prayers?”
I smiled at him and he scowled back, venom in his look. ‘Lord Jesus, bless him. Take that black heart and make it pure. Take his heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh.’ I continued to smile. “Jesus loves you, just as you are.” He gave me a withering look and turned away to retreat into the depths of his cell; but as he turned, suddenly I thought I saw a vulnerable little boy walking away.
At home, I could not get him out of my mind. Eventually, I wrote a poem of my experience.
[His face was hard and battle-scarred
His narrowed eyes were filled with hate
He looked at me, then looked away
The man behind the grate.
I smiled at him and said hello
The cold eyes didn’t hesitate
He faced my stare, then gave a scowl
_The man behind the grate. _
I wondered what had put him there
What evil did he perpetrate
To send him into solit’ry
Alone behind the grate.
It’s usual when we go to pray
And walk the prison floors till late
To see the faces and the hands
Pressed hard against the grate.
They want the touch they want to see
_ Who's come -- who doesn't hesitate _
To show Christ’s love, to show His care
To those behind the grate.
But in that solitary cell
A man who roared against his fate
Sat eaten up with bitterness
And glowered through the grate.
It seemed to me that as I looked
I saw like a precipitate
The smut of evil clinging to
The crossbars of the grate.
Then … in the face behind the bars
I thought I saw a child of eight
_Being bruised and beaten, kicked and cursed _
Brought up on fear and hate.
And then I saw another face
The Man who sealed my fate
He too was beaten mocked and scorned
Like that behind the grate.
Lord Jesus You have been with him
_ His sin -- You bore its weight _
You know the pain behind the scowl
Of him behind the grate.
Be with him now, he needs your love
To melt his pain so great
Embrace him with Your nail-pierced hands
Let love replace his hate.
Imprisoned in that lonely cell
Let all his fear abate
Be with him, let him feel You sit
With him behind the grate.
He can be free, he can rejoice
He can appreciate
A Lord, a Savior and a Friend
Who’s with him by the grate.
For everything that he’s endured
You can ameliorate
Though he’s restrained by prison bars
You are the Way, the Gate.
You melt a raging heart of stone
That seeks to make men quake
And take him through the Gate, to heav’n
Far from the fiery Lake.
You’re with him in his prison cell
You’ll set him free and take
_His spirit to a spacious place _
While still behind the grate.]
I thought of the many stories, told to us by Hope Prison Ministries, of prison gangsters still bearing the tattoos of skulls and daggers and the scars of a life of crime and violence, but now leading Bible studies and playing in worship bands. -- And God has ordained that it starts with prayer. The correctional officers report that violence and tensions among inmates drop after a prayer walk -- even in centers with significant gang activity -- paving the way for the Word to be brought by those called to preach to them, in this Christ-like ministry.
No-one, not even that hate-filled man is beyond the reach of Jesus. I witnessed the changed lives of the men making up the worship band that led us in worship before our prayer walk. There are few things in my memory as beautiful as their battle-scarred, storm-weathered faces -- visible testimony to a life of abuse and bitterness, but now lit with the light and love of Jesus. If you are reading this and wincing at the memory of something in your past of which you are deeply ashamed, think of those in prison whom Jesus has touched. You are never beyond the embrace of the grace-filled, pierced hands of the Savior.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8)
“Give up your violence and oppression and do what is right.” (Ezekiel 45:9) NIV
Dennis was a successful dairy farmer, with a farm 40 kilometers away from Pietermaritzburg. He was relaxing in his lounge with his wife, Sarah, one Saturday afternoon when she glanced up at the window.
“Dennis, there are three men coming to the gate. Were you expecting a meeting with your workers?”
“No.” He looked up from the television. “I don’t recognize them. I’d better see what they want.”
“Careful, darling.” She watched him walk down the drive to meet them. Suddenly her world whirled around her as she saw a scuffle, the flash of a knife and he fell to the ground. She pressed the panic button that would immediately alert all the farmers in the area.
The men looked up at the house, had a quick interchange of words and left. Sarah rushed to her husband. “Dennis, Dennis. Are you alright?” He was already deathly pale and clutching his abdomen. She could see no wound.
Just then her phone rang. “Sarah, are you okay? What’s happened?” Raymond, from the farm next door was answering her panic call.
“Dennis has been attacked. I think he’s been stabbed. Can you come right away?”
Raymond was there in ten minutes. By that time, Dennis was groaning in pain and rubbing the right side of his abdomen. It took them less than thirty minutes to travel the forty kilometers to Pietermaritzburg Mediclinic, where I was on call and had just finished a Cesarean Section.
Bernie, a surgeon, called me from the ER. “I have a man here who’s been stabbed in the back. I think it’s through his kidney. He’s bleeding and in shock. I’m rushing him to theater.”
I met Dennis as he was wheeled to the theater door on a trolley. Sarah was beside him.
Sarah’s mouth trembled as she spoke. “Three men attacked him and stabbed him in the back, but his tummy is dreadfully sore.” Her face was drawn. “I couldn’t see any wound. I was looking in the front.”
“Any allergies? Any illnesses? Medication? Problems with anesthetics in the past?” I fired the questions at her as I quickly examined him. He was already too sick to answer my questions himself. Sarah shook her head at each question.”
I was surprised at how quickly he had plunged into septic shock. He panted for breath as his whole body, flushed and warm, was shaking uncontrollably; his pulse was soft and racing and his blood pressure was dangerously low.
We hurried him into the operating room, where I could monitor him properly and treat his blood pressure. I had adrenaline and blood running through separate drips before I nodded to the surgeon. “Okay to start.”
The scalpel slid across Raymond's belly and the tissues parted. As the surgeon opened his abdomen, it became apparent why he was in such shock. Not only was his belly full of blood, gushing from the lacerated kidney, but the thug's knife had been thrust right through his kidney and into his intestine. All the bacteria that lived in the feces of his colon were pouring straight into his bloodstream through the wound in his kidney. As they hit the capillaries, they paralyzed them and caused them to leak the fluid they contained, into the surrounding tissue. So vicious are these organisms that up to 60% of patients with this type of septicemia die -- and Dennis was receiving a massive dose of them straight from his gut.
The surgeon removed the kidney and sewed up the hole in Dennis’ colon, while I was pouring in blood and trying desperately to keep his blood pressure up with cardiac drugs. Finally the surgery was over and we moved him to the ICU. Now the battle for his life began in earnest. His one remaining kidney went into failure from the prolonged shock. The bacteria attacked the capillaries of his lungs, making them leak fluid, so that his lungs were soggy and difficult to ventilate.
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I was calling out to God for His healing and for guidance. I was also keeping Sarah up to date, of course, and praying with her. I told her what I told most of the relatives of patients in ICU, “All we can do is to try to normalize all the things that are going wrong, with drugs and fluids and mechanical support. After that, we have to call out to God for healing and trust Him to do it.” and I offered to pray with her. Sarah was a self-sufficient, capable farmer’s wife, used to dealing with everything with a firm aloofness. She was a nominal believer, but she bowed her head each day as I prayed.
After a week, Dennis’ liver failed as well and he became jaundiced.
I spoke to Sarah. “Dennis is now in what is known as Multiple Organ Failure. Few people survive this. We need to pray earnestly.” I took her hand and entreated God for Dennis’ life.
Day after day we wrestled, fighting the spiritual battle in prayer with the nurses and Sarah, while at his bedside I fought the physical battle, dealing with crisis after crisis. He was bloated with edema as the fluid leaked out of his capillaries. His intravenous lines became septic and needed replacing. He developed pneumonia which needed to be treated. He required dialysis to treat his kidney failure. His temperature swung wildly up and down, telling us that the septicemia was not yet under control. He needed a second operation to clear up an abscess in his abdomen.
Yet, as I gathered round his bed with Sarah and the believing nurses from ICU, he held his own.
I noticed a change in Sarah. As she saw the genuine care of the nurses and the earnestness with which we prayed for her husband, she softened, and started asking questions about God and prayer.
“Do you really believe He answers prayer? How does He do it? Why did He let this happen to Dennis?”
After six weeks of daily struggle, I walked in one day and I knew Dennis had turned the corner. Intuition is a complex thing. I suspect a lot has to do with little tell-tale signs that are picked up subconsciously and mingle with knowledge accumulated over years. Whatever the reason, I knew on that day, that I could stop entreating God and start to praise Him.
Sure enough, within a few days, his kidney started working, his jaundice lightened and all the edema that made him so bloated started to subside.
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Sarah was looking haggard and strained. She was running the farm under the dark cloud of a desperately ill husband and rapidly escalating hospital bills, which threatened to cripple them. As he improved, though, her gratitude knew no bounds.
“You nurses were amazing, not just with your skill, but with your caring.”
Dennis’ prolonged stay in the ICU of a private hospital had drained all their financial resources, so as soon as he was off the ventilator and breathing normally, with his kidney and liver on the mend, he was transferred to a state hospital. We all said a teary goodbye to Sarah, who had become a friend by then, and to Dennis who had become such a part of our daily lives. As I said goodbye, I wondered if Sarah, with her efficient self-reliance, genuinely believed that it was God who had healed her beloved husband. Would it prod her into seeking a deeper relationship with Him?
Two weeks later, I received a phone call from Sarah. “Dr. Walker, when I’m in town, do you think I could visit your Home Group?”
Dennis made an uneventful recovery. Sarah came to our Home Group a couple of times, but it was difficult for her to keep it up from the farm, and I didn’t see her again. She was always rather guarded in any discussions on faith issues. However, I have learned not to take responsibility for another’s salvation, but to understand that the dynamic of coming to the Cross in repentance is at God’s initiative. Sometimes all He wants us to do is to sow seeds for a harvest at a later time. Self-sufficient Sarah saw enough evidence of the power of prayer for her to want to come to a Christian Home Group. A seed was sown.
“Turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2) NIV
As I poured myself into my work as an anesthesiologist and into following Christ, I became aware that there are many spiritual parallels to the clinical conditions and how the patients react to them. As Jesus used ordinary stories to illustrate spiritual truths during His ministry, so I realized God was using my patients’ situations to do the same with me.
Allow me to share two examples: (Other examples can be found in my short anthology titled, ‘Stethoscope Parables: hospital stories with a spiritual message’, available for free on my website.)
While practicing in Pietermaritzburg, I became the anesthetist for the Pietermaritzburg Craniofacial Unit. This unit treated people who had severe facial deformities. Most of the conditions were congenital and many of our patients were children, though some had been living with the demeaning indignity of their looks until well into their teens and later.
Some had arrested growth of their mid-face. Their noses were squashed against their faces, and their lower teeth protruded as much as two centimeters beyond their uppers. Their eyeballs bulged, from shallow undeveloped sockets, like a bullfrog’s. When viewed from the side, a protruding forehead hung over hugely bulging eyes that appeared to be about to fall from narrow sockets onto small undeveloped cheeks. Their noses were flattened against their small upper jaw. Then, sticking out beyond their mid-face was the lower jaw, lined with teeth; having nothing to oppose them they jutted, like little ivory monoliths into the air.
Other patients had eyes as much as eight centimeters apart, giving their faces a peculiar triangular shape, while others, like strange birds, had sharp pointed noses, almost no cheekbones and a receding chin.
One child had a huge cleft that extended through his lip and palate, along his nose and beside his eye. His mother, allowing us insight into her lovely unconditional love, had named him Goodenough.
Many of these unfortunate people were kept holed up in a back room, out of society’s sight from birth.
As the anesthesiologist, I saw these patients a month before their surgery, when they came for assessment and the planning of their operations. It broke my heart to see their reaction to being exposed to us. Trying vainly to hide their faces, the source of their ugliness, they looked down, first to the right then to the left, too ashamed to look up, or look me in the eye. In spite of my caring, and being there to help, they endeavored to hide — but unlike an arm or a scarred body, how do you hide a face?
Can you imagine what it must be like to spend most of your young life locked up or hidden away? Imagine having people shudder and look away when you walk down the street.
Now picture yourself being given a mirror a week or two after your operation, when the swelling and bruising has subsided. Your eyes no longer bulge, but gaze back clear and straight, you smile and your teeth are in line, in fact for the very first time you can feel your upper and lower teeth meet when you chew your food. You walk down the street and no-one stares. You are free. You can dream and plan.In all my years of practice, I can think of few things that gave me more satisfaction than having one of these patients, now normal in appearance -- sometimes frankly beautiful -- look me in the eyes and smile.
Yet many of the patients had skills to learn and habits to unlearn. Early on, the Craniofacial Unit incorporated psychological counseling as part of the treatment. The stigmata of past rejection lingered; many did not know how to deal wisely with their newfound freedom; they trusted all and sundry in the fresh joy of being accepted, with the risk of being taken advantage of.Again there are parallels with our spiritual walk. As Jesus sets us free from the terrible ugliness of sin, we find a new joy. We delight in the freedom of having our sin dealt with on the Cross, discovering the wonderful grace of God. Yet, though we are instantly made righteous in God's eyes, we are not fully sanctified. I shudder, now, at my insensitivity when I first encountered God so radically -- especially with my family -- as I enthusiastically went to every meeting in town, leaving them to wonder what had happened to their dad. There are bad habits to unlearn, and there is also new wisdom to be gained. We need discipleship and wise counsel.
In a sense, each of us is like a craniofacial patient, though many do not realize it. Deep down, because we are all affected by the Fall and hence by sin, we know we have an ugly side, which we try desperately to hide, though God, of course sees it all. He has all the means to transform us, but we need to come and ask. In the same way as the patients had to be willing to subject themselves to the ministrations of the Craniofacial Unit, so we need to come to God and petition Him to do His work in us.
When we do, and allow Him to transform us, nothing gives Him greater pleasure than to see us smiling confidently, able to look Him in the eyes. Because of what He has done at Calvary, as we come to Him in faith, we can be sure of our beauty as His new creation, ready to plan and dream.
The child lay on the table, his upper lip in shreds. Small hooks caught the edges of jagged, bleeding cuts, pulling the wound apart, exposing raw muscle. These apparently random cuts made the lip look as if it had smashed against a broken bottle. I looked aghast at what I saw. How was the surgeon ever going to put that tangle of disorganized flesh together again?
Slowly and methodically he began. The little muscles of the lip were pulled together. The jutting corner of skin that looked so out of place was tucked neatly behind the ala of the nose, bringing it forward, in line with the other side. A triangle of skin was released from its place across the cheek where the skin hook had held it, and miraculously fitted perfectly into the triangle created when the tag was tucked behind the ala. And that made a triangle into which an opposing wedge fitted. Pulling the muscles together had drawn the lip into fullness and more tiny stitches formed a perfect little M at the lip beneath the nose. The mouth, marred before surgery by the ugly empty gash of a cleft, was a perfect little rosebud.
I have never tired of watching a plastic surgeon repair a cleft lip: The complexity of skin cuts, which make no sense to someone not skilled in reconstructive surgery, seem chaotic. The digging deep into the flesh to find the muscles on each side of the cleft which, if not sewn together, would pull the whole repair apart, seems cruel.
And then the surgeon, with superb skill, slowly and meticulously makes something beautiful and normal out of an ugly defect; something so much more the way God intended it to be.
I have often wondered how the child’s mother would react if, without understanding what the surgeon was doing, she saw her child midway through the operation. Would she cry out in dismay and snatch her child away if she could? Would her child then remain with a horribly deformed lip while the mother told everyone what a terrible person the surgeon was, citing her child’s lip, now terribly scarred, as evidence? Would she be deaf to the surgeon’s deep sighing, “If only she’d have trusted me to finish.”?
Fortunately, that never happens. The mother has entrusted her child to the doctor, and patiently awaits the amazing result of the surgery.
Yet I wonder how often we do that with God? Just as the surgeon carefully cuts and dissects, laying everything open with planned precision, in order to refashion a deformed mouth the way God designed it, so God sometimes takes our lives apart to refashion them into something far more beautiful; in line with what He had in mind for us from the start. Time after time one hears stories of how a tragedy or hardship caused someone to be shaken out of complacency and start to seek God more earnestly. For me, it was the tragic death of my brother that shook me out of a presumption that took Him for granted, and led me into a relationship I never would have dreamed was possible.
How important it is to trust the Master Surgeon in those circumstances, so that He can use His consummate skill to put our lives together again more beautifully than they were before; and more in line with what He had planned them to be from the start.
Sadly, some of us snatch our lives away from Him halfway through the operation, turning our backs on Him, complaining of His cruelty and using our broken lives as proof.
When all the time He is saying, “If only he’d have trusted Me to finish.”
“Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.” (Psalm 102:2) NIV
There is no greater thrill than seeing God answer prayer; and there is no greater challenge to my faith than experiencing apparent silence from heaven. This is especially so when I desperately want a certain outcome and it does not happen. Sometimes that blinds me to other ways in which God is working. Such was the case with Faith.
Faith was a beautiful fair-skinned girl in her twenties, with blue eyes, a clear complexion and soft blond hair that flowed almost down to her waist. She loved Jesus passionately and shone with an inner peace and beauty that equaled her outer beauty. Right now, however, she was doubled up in pain, clutching her distended stomach and writhing on the hospital bed.
“Oh-oh-oh!” she moaned, “Oh-oh-oh. Quick, I think I need a basin.”
Kimberly, her husband rushed up with a basin as she vomited. The stomach cramps subsided and she relaxed.
It was late at night and the surgeon was holding an X-ray of her abdomen up to the light box in the ward. He turned to the couple and addressed Faith.
“You have intestinal obstruction. I’m not sure what the cause is. You’ll need an operation to fix it. We’ll have to do it straight away.”
The operation was difficult. As the surgeon sliced open the abdomen, like a sausage string of elongated balloons, distended loops of gas-filled small intestine burst from the incision. Battling through the ballooning gut, the surgeon finally established what the problem was. Faith had malrotation of her intestine.
When we are growing in our mother’s womb, at one point our newly formed gut rotates so that the full length (7 meters in an adult) can all fit in our abdomen. Sometimes this process is interrupted in the developing baby and the intestine fails to rotate properly. In time, within the chaotic twists and turns of the gut, large bands of connective tissue — like thin scar tissue — can stretch across it and block it. This is what had happened to Faith. The surgeon placed a gloved finger under a large band of tissue that was blocking the bowel. He slid a blade of the scissors along his finger under the band and cut.
Suddenly, as the bowel was released, blood came jetting from the tissue he had just cut, splashing his mask and hitting the theater light. The tissue contained the main artery supplying the entire intestine. The surgeon clamped the end of the spewing artery --- and watched in horror as Faith’s whole intestine turned pale, then blue. It was dying. The atmosphere in the operating room was electric. Everyone knew this was a life and death situation as the surgeon struggled to join the ends of the artery and restore the blood supply. If the artery could not be joined, it was a death sentence; one cannot live without an intestine. Yet the whole anatomy was so abnormal that the two ends of the artery, once divided, were many centimeters away from one another. There was dead silence as beads of perspiration were wiped from the surgeon's brow by the 'floor nurse' and all eyes were on him and the scrub sister. Faith's intestine grew darker and darker. After hours of work, the surgeon had to admit defeat. Even if he managed to restore the blood supply, the gut would not survive; it had been without its blood supply for too long. The surgeon had no option but to remove all but half a meter of Faith’s gut (which had its blood supply from another small artery).
I heard about Faith two weeks after her tragic operation, and went to see her. No-one could have guessed at the ordeal she had been through and the tough road that lay ahead. She radiated love and peace. A group from her church was with her and strains of My Glory and the Lifter of my Head wafted down the passage as they sang choruses exalting the name of Jesus. From then on, I joined a constant stream of people who came to visit her. I had no need to confine my visits to visiting hours, and had many hours of prayer with her and Kimberly. Many in the church felt God was saying He would heal her, and hopes were high. I also sensed God was going to do something miraculous.
The miraculous thing that God did, however, was not in her body, but in Faith’s spirit. She never lost her radiance or her love for Jesus -- which expressed itself in a love for the other patients in the ward. In the following months, a pale young woman with long blond hair was often seen wheeling her drip stand of intravenous feed, visiting the other patients and praying with them. The nurses and patients called her an angel, and indeed she was, to many.
I have noticed that, impressive as the testimonies of healing are to unbelievers, there is nothing that touches their hearts more profoundly than a victorious attitude in the face of difficulty. One just has to look at the teary faces at a meeting by Nic Vujicic, a man with no arms or legs, but a heart on fire for Jesus. Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton, a young woman who is as fearless a witness for Jesus as she is a one-armed surf champion, has a similar impact.
As Faith radiated the love of Jesus from a body everyone knew could digest no food, hearts and souls were touched. On one occasion there was a timid knock on her door and the man in the ward next door entered. Tears poured down his face and his words came from a throat choked with emotion. “How do you do it? How do you have such strength … and…and….” He drew in his breath, “and such love?” Impulsively he took her hand. “I’ve got to have what you have. How do I get it?”
We were all speaking positive words into Faith’s life and, with her attitude, it became easy to believe that God had already started the healing process. However when, at her insistence, she was allowed something to eat by mouth, what went in came out unchanged. She had no means of digesting her food.
Intravenous feeding can never fully replace the way God has designed us to be fed, (although great strides have been made in the forty years since Faith was receiving it). Faith began losing weight. Then her beautiful hair started falling out until she was bald.
How does one remain true to Jesus when He says, “Whatever you ask for in my name, believe that you have it and it will be done for you,” and yet prepare for such a huge event as death?
She and Kimberly had to balance trusting God, and coming to terms with the fact that she might die soon.
She became quieter, but no less caring.
Then the time came when she could no longer tread the passages of the ward with her drip stand, visiting the patients and nurses. I visited her at her bed. She still smiled, though weakly.
“I’m going to see Jesus, Dr. Walker.”
“Yes, Faith. Soon.”
“How wonderful everything is. How beautiful.”
I blinked back tears and tried to talk.
“Yes, Faith. You see through Jesus’ eyes.”
She gave a little sigh.
“God will look after Kimberly.”
She closed her eyes and I left silently.
I did not see her again. She died a week later.
I felt a deep regret that God had not healed her. She was such a beautiful person. In my eyes she deserved to live. Yet, as I journaled about it to God in my Quiet Time, I could not deny that her short life was filled with color. Like a living paintbrush she colored the lives of all those around her, and brought more of the life of God into the hospital than I had seen before, or have seen since.
About a year ago, I met a person in the street who reminded me that she had been a patient of mine many years previously. Her eyes grew soft and she remarked, “I was in hospital at the same time as Faith.” I could see she was back in the ward, reliving that time as she continued, “What a beautiful person. How very close to God. I will never forget her.”
In situations like Faith’s, when we so desire a different outcome, God expects us to exercise our faith — not our faith in the outcome, but faith that God is who He says He is. He is all-loving, all-wise, ever-present and always working everything together for the good of those who love Him.
I can imagine the ecstatic welcome Faith received in heaven as she left a legacy here on earth of indelible memories; memories of an angel walking through the wards, radiating the love of God wherever she went, touching the lives of hurting and sick people.
“Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments
And His paths beyond tracing out.” (Romans 11:33)
“When I called to you, you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted.” (Psalm 138:3) NIV
The year was 1995 and I had been in practice in Pietermaritzburg for 20 years. My three daughters had grown up and left home, and I was immersed in my work and my church. Penny and I had been through a tough year five years previously, when she lost her breast to cancer and suffered debilitating chemotherapy. Now, however, she was declared cured and was feeling fit. I should not have felt happier or more fulfilled; and yet there was an unsettling murmur in my spirit, as if I needed to put something right that was out of kilter. I could not understand it. I sought God’s face again and again. “Lord, if there is anything I am doing that I should not be doing, or anything that needs to be put right, please show me.” God was silent.
Then I received a call from a colleague who had been in our practice, but had moved to the Middle East.
“Dave, how would you like to come and work over here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)? We need someone to look after our ICU.”
It was a big move for Penny as well as me, and I put off the decision. Yet, through an extraordinary set of ‘coincidences’ orchestrated by God, He assured me it was what He wanted. Once I had accepted, the uneasy murmuring in my spirit ceased.
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I looked out of the window of the 4 × 4 taking me from Dubai to the inland city of Al Ain on the border of Oman. Trees lined the three lane double carriageway and I noticed a little pipe at the base of each one, drip-feeding it. Beyond the single line of trees, untidily turbaned Bedouins herded their goats in straggly lines, and the occasional camel looked haughtily at its surroundings of crescent dunes pockmarked with hardy grass tufts. I felt at home, as if I had walked into the pages of the Bible, and my spirit stirred with excited anticipation. What did God have in store for me?
In preparation for my stay, I had read missionary Phil Parshall’s book ‘The Cross and the Crescent,’ in which he compares Christianity and Islam in a warm, compassionate way. Ten days into my stay I gave the book to Masri --- a Lebanese anesthesiologist and outspoken follower of Islam, whom I had befriended --- and asked him for his opinion.
That was how, in less than a month, I became the central focus of a meeting with the Medical Superintendent of the hospital, Masri to whom I had given the book and who had organized the meeting), a delightful Muslim lung specialist whom I had befriended, and the Chief Mullah (Muslim priest) of Al Ain. They were there to set me right on my view of Islam.
I was excited at the prospect of meeting the mullah, and it pleased me to be identified so early on as a Christian. It was an interesting introduction to Islam, especially hearing it from the Chief Mullah. I learned that of the 99 names of Allah, not one is ‘Father’. I also determined that in Islam there is no such thing as original sin and therefore no need of a Savior; forgiveness for sins committed is not guaranteed, and is entirely at the whim of Allah. I also learned that on Judgment Day, our good deeds will be weighed against our bad to determine where we will go. How grateful I was to serve a God whom I can call Father, who is personal and constant and who guarantees my forgiveness, if I put my faith in His wonderful work at Calvary.
Very soon I discovered that the authorities were very tolerant of Christians, although any form of evangelism was strictly forbidden. They even had a ‘Prayer Hut’ in the hospital’s expatriate compound, and a bus was provided to take one to church. This was largely thanks to an extraordinary medical couple.
Drs. Pat and Marian Kennedy arrived, in 1960, at the invitation of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, then the ruler of Abu Dhabi, to start a clinic in Al Ain. It was the people of the Emirates’ first experience of Western medicine. With temperatures soaring above 50 degrees centigrade and no air conditioning, sand storms and primitive transport, the Kennedys operated their clinic from a little wattle and daub guest house, donated to them by the Sheik.
They quickly won the hearts of the people. In spite of the harsh conditions, they remained cheerful and encouraging, working untiringly to bring healing and the love of Jesus to the population. When they arrived, a third of the women and half of the babies died in childbirth. Their expertise rapidly reduced these horrific figures, and their warm, Christian love gave the people a respect for true Christian believers. This included Sheik Zayed whose own children were delivered by the Kennedys, in a hospital much improved from the wattle and daub house they started with. Over 50 years later, the hospital, named by them as Oasis Hospital is modern and state-of-the -art. It is still staffed predominantly by Christians. One of the conditions the Kennedys laid down for them to start the hospital was that there should be a church on the site, and this is honored still. Such is the impact of true Christian service, as shown by the husband and wife team that, despite its official name being Oasis Hospital, most of the inhabitants still call it The Kennedy Hospital.
As I worked with the hospital staff in Tawam Hospital (a state hospital a few kilometers from Oasis Hospital), most of whom were Muslim, I grew to love them as people. Many of them had a true love for God, but it was misdirected. I could not help but think of Cornelius from the Book of Acts, who loved God, but needed Peter to show him His true nature. My prayer to this day is, Lord, send Peters to the hundreds of Corneliuses — Muslims who desire You, yet do not really know You. It seems, with the current upheaval in the Middle East, He is now doing that, as Muslims turn to Jesus in unprecedented numbers.
In Tawam Hospital, I had to speak to my patients through a Muslim interpreter, which made praying with them impossible. Nevertheless, I could still pray for my patients in the Intensive Care Unit. At the end of the day I laid hands on those I felt led to, and prayed for their healing and for their souls. Often the nursing staff would see me praying, and I believe they respected it. Unlike the secular West, the Muslims are a deeply religious people; their conversation is punctuated constantly with “Insh’allah” meaning “If God wills” and there is frequent mention of God in their conversation. Thus, the starting point of any religious conversation was not, as it is so often in the West, “Does God exist?” but “What is the nature of God?” and “Who is Jesus?”
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It did not take me long to realize that there is also opportunity for ministry among the expatriates. Many were there because of relational difficulties at home, or financial problems. Indeed, often the one precipitates the other. So, in my second year there, I decided to run an Alpha Course in the expat compound. I returned from a holiday at home in South Africa with a handful of worksheets and Nicky Gumble’s video talks. The videos were confiscated at Customs, but, amazingly, were returned to me three weeks later. Then I advertised the course, by word of mouth, in the hospital. Imagine my surprise when nearly 40 people signed up for the course. I was hopelessly under-equipped with material. I began seeking the Lord. Lord, I need more books! How can You get me more? I started with what I had, but it is not satisfactory sharing a workbook on an Alpha Course.
The Course had hardly begun, however, when it had to be put on hold because of a crisis in ICU. I had watched from the sidelines as the hospital physicians treated the aunt of an important Sheik. Sheikah Miriam was struggling to breathe. She did not seem to be managing too well, so I was very surprised when the physicians discharged her from ICU to the Royal Suite two floors up. That night I was called to see her.
I entered the Royal Suite with its marble floors, Persian carpets, priceless paintings, porcelain vases and gold taps. In one room, gasping for air and with oxygen saturation levels dangerously low, a frail old lady lay propped up on pillows with an oxygen mask over her face. I felt her pulse. It was soft and irregular. Her hands were cold and clammy. The old lady was close to death.
Hovering outside the ward, like strange black wraiths in their abeyas and Burkhas were the old lady’s relatives. I explained the situation to the only one who spoke English.
“Sheikah Miriam is very ill. I need to take her back to ICU and put her on a machine for breathing.”
I waited impatiently while a lot of chatter filled the air.
“No. She no want ICU.”
“If she does not go to ICU very fast, she will die.”
“She no want ICU.”
“I’m sorry, we cannot waste time talking. She will die in a few hours if I cannot put her on a machine for her breathing. If you refuse to let me take her, you will be responsible for her death.”
As this was relayed to the others, one of the ladies spoke rapidly into her mobile, while the one who spoke English said, “Wait.”
After 20 minutes in which I was praying and watching Sheikah Miriam gasping for air, a middle aged man with a firm mouth, aquiline nose and pale brown eyes burst into the suite. He shook my hand and spoke in perfect English, “Mahommed. What is the matter with my mother?”
At last, someone I could speak to. “Your mother is in respiratory failure. I don’t know what the cause is, but if I don’t get her on a machine to assist her breathing very soon, she will die.”
He examined me minutely for a while, then dialed a number on his phone. “Here, speak to the Royal Physician.”
It was a pleasure to speak to someone who could understand the clinical situation. He understood the gravity right away. “Okay, give me Mahommed. Let me talk to him.” He persuaded him to let me take her to ICU.
Because of the status of Sheikah Miriam, I informed the Minister of Health that I had re-admitted her to ICU and put her on a ventilator. I could imagine the flurry of activity as he immediately called for the head of Brompton Chest Hospital in London, who took the next plane out. He arrived in the afternoon, agreed with my decision, and proceeded to spell out in detail all the possibilities to the Minister and the relatives. It was unlikely, he said, that the Sheikah would be off the ventilator in a short time; they must prepare themselves for the long haul and the possibility that she would require a tracheotomy which, he explained, was a hole made in her throat.
To explain the situation in such a forthright manner is excellent practice in a Western country. We, in the West are inquisitive, self-reliant creatures who like to know all the facts in great detail, and weigh the consequences. However, in the Arab culture, one sticks to good positive news, even when all parties know it is not really the truth. It is bad form to give bad news. I have overheard an Arab neurosurgeon discussing a brain dead patient to the relatives and saying, “He is stable. Perhaps, Inshallah, he will wake up tomorrow.” All the relatives nodded their heads, while patently realizing that their loved one was on his way to Allah.
So when the respiratory physician spoke about a tracheotomy, they shook their heads in protest and promptly closed the conversation by inviting him to tea!
On the second day, I was in ICU well before the respiratory physician from the Brompton, who was due to visit the hospital before his flight back to London. Miriam was doing very well and, since I was still in charge of the case, I thought I would give her a spell off the ventilator. When the respiratory physician arrived, he was surprised to see Miriam breathing by herself, but was pessimistic about her ability to stay that way for long, predicting that we would soon have to assist her breathing once more. However, she was a game old lady and, over the next few days, went from strength to strength, to the delight of her son Mahommed and Minister of Health.
I still did not have a diagnosis as to why she had gone into respiratory failure and discussed this with the Royal Physician. He suggested that I have her flown to the Brompton Chest Hospital for investigation. When I put this to her son, Mahommed, he was quick to agree, but insisted that I accompany her.
We flew her there from a private airport, in an executive jet which was set up as a mobile intensive care unit. Then, to show his gratitude, Mahommed gave me two nights’ accommodation in the executive suite of a hotel near Harrod’s in the center of London. The hotel was five minutes’ walk from Holy Trinity Brompton Church, the home of the Alpha Course! Thus I was able to acquire all the literature I needed, to provide for everyone on the Alpha Course. Not only that, but since I would be flying back to the Sheik’s private airport and not going through customs, I could purchase evangelistic literature for the course as well.
How creative and unsearchable are the ways of God.
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways ‘ declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8,9) NIV
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jer.33:3) NIV
I had been in the United Arab Emirates for three and a half years when a visit from the oncologist changed my life.
“Dave, Penny came for her regular checkup today.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “She had a small lump in her neck. We did a needle biopsy. It’s positive for cancer.”
An icy hand gripped my heart. I didn’t know what to say, and he continued, “It’s a very small lymph node, but of course, we need to see if it has spread internally. We’ll need to do further investigations.”
I walked home with my friend, Mike. My legs felt as if I was walking through toffee, as in a bad dream, while my mind was still trying to grasp the implications of the news. “I don’t know how I’m going to break this to her, Mike. After her last chemo — what was it? All of eight years ago, she swore she would never go through that again.”
I opened the door of our villa to be greeted by Penny’s warm, cheerful embrace. “Hello, how was your day?”
“It was good thanks, my darling. How was yours?
“I’ve had a good day. Trish came round and then I went to the hospital for a checkup. They found a little lump in my neck, but I’m sure it’s nothing.”
I took her hand and looked into her eyes. “No, my darling. It’s not nothing.”
Her eyes fluttered, then turned up and she crumpled.
I caught her as she fell and held her close to the carpet, pleading with God to have mercy, desperate to comfort her, but not having the words.
CT scans, bone scans and an MRI showed that she had secondary cancer deposits in her chest, spine, ribs and hips.
Thus began the most extraordinary journey of my life. Penny did start chemotherapy and also radiotherapy. Initially she plunged into deep depression and our home was spiritually dark and somber. I hated to see my precious Penny in a deep spiritual cavern. Nothing could lift the atmosphere, and I dreaded coming home each day into a gloom I was powerless to ameliorate.
In the summer, when the sun was so fierce it took your breath away as you stepped outside, and burned the sand, so you could feel the heat through your shoes, I sent Penny home on holiday, as did many of my compatriots.
That was when God did His miracle. He did not heal her body, but touched her spirit with an inner joy and optimism about life that flooded wherever she went with light. On her return I kept waiting for her to break, and to plunge once more into depression, but she never did. She endured numerous bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy with a cheerfulness that was infectious. Sometimes it was almost eccentric, as she insisted on hugging her Swedish oncologist when she went for a checkup. Her kindness and cheerfulness spread to the lowliest of workers, whose faces lit up as she engaged in conversation with them, and waved to them on her way past. On one occasion, she befriended a car guard in the hospital grounds who had rescued a kitten. When Penny was admitted during a bout of septicemia, the car guard appeared at her bedside carrying a bunch of flowers. In a touching display of affection, he had traveled a considerable distance into the city and bought fresh flowers for her out of his meager earnings.
Tawam Hospital was an oncology center for the Emirates and beyond, and Penny could not have received better treatment. Nevertheless, the time came when the oncologist pulled me aside. “You need to take Penny home, Dave. She needs to be with her family.”
It was time to say goodbye to some of the most fulfilling six years of my life. I took her to our little holiday cottage that overlooked False Bay, in Fish Hoek, Cape Town. Outside our picture windows dolphins played, a resident seal dived and grunted, whales came floating by, occasionally slapping their great fins against the water with a crack like a rifle shot, or breaching spectacularly, sending white water churning as their huge bodies fell back into the sea. We were so close we could hear their hollow hooting, like a call in a huge cavern, from our bedroom at night. Within a week, God supplied a job for me at Victoria Hospital. It was a sessional consultant post for just sixteen hours a week, which meant I could spend much time with Penny.
It was a schizophrenic time for me, as I watched Penny touch many lives with her joy and a wonderful grace that took everyone at face value without judgment; and all the while I was observing her waste away before my eyes.
Penny knew she was dying --- yet it was difficult for us to talk about our deepest feelings. We faced the reality -- to the extent that I came home from work one day, and she handed me a list of coffin types and their prices. "Don't get extravagant on the funeral, Dave. It's all going to get burned, anyway." --- but we could not get emotional about her death and my bereavement. It was as though we knew she had a terminal illness in our heads, but it didn't settle deep in our hearts. Penny could prepare for her funeral, but also joke with her oncologist about having a pill to counter the effects of the pill that was given to counter the side-effects of the other pill. She deliberately chose to focus on the joy of living, and to push the fear of dying to the background. Only once did I hear her say, "It doesn't seem fair that I should die without seeing my grandchildren grow up."
After three years, at the start of 2005, the cancer had spread to her bone marrow, her lymphatic system and her brain. She was on oxygen and was so weak that I had to turn her in bed, and half-carry her to the bathroom. Yet her joy and sparkle continued. Those who came to see her were unaware of how weak she was, and the struggle she had, just to sit and talk with them.
Finally, as I, her sister Gail and good Christian friends sat around her bed, she gave a great sigh, half sat up and opened her eyes as if she had seen something, and sank back on her pillow.
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I thought I was prepared for Penny’s death -- it had been a long time coming — but I discovered that no matter how much one anticipates it, when it happens, bereavement devastates. For weeks my heart burst with unbearable anguish, as great sobs came unbidden, finding expression in overflowing tears and a tight throat that could not speak, save for groans.
Yet in the midst of it all, God was so close He was almost tangible. I felt Him hold me. I could speak to Him as I spoke to my earthly father, and I felt cocooned in His love. Only a Christian can understand how one can feel pain and comfort at the same time, a desperate longing and loneliness, and yet a sense of not being alone.
Slowly, my life came together and I was able to go back to work at Victoria Hospital. I even went to China with a Rotary Group to repair cleft lips. It was a wonderful respite, yet I returned to an empty house with no-one to regale with my stories.
Desperate for someone to love, I entered hastily into another marriage before I had time to finish mourning. It was a bad decision made for the wrong reasons and, unfortunately, left me more devastated than I had been at the loss of my beloved Penny. I called out in desperation to God, who now seemed distant in my unhappiness. Yet though we may not feel Him, He is always there. Though we feel discouraged and spiritually discordant, He sees our hearts and responds to a deep desire to serve Him.
I started writing my first book, God in the ICU, to give Him glory by recording, for others, the wonderful way He responds to us when we pray. I also knew that when we are unhappy, God's way of bringing comfort is for us to reach out -- to look beyond ourselves and our circumstances....I started visiting a shelter for the homeless.
On my visit to the homeless shelter, I find there’s tangible despair – if despair is the opposite of hope – as one enters the premises.
We drive up the narrow road past the women’s dormitories, Mary and Hazel are sunning themselves in white plastic chairs placed in the narrow space between the road and the building. Their faces brighten as I wave. Further along, on the steps of a steel shed, Fiona sits motionless, her head bowed.
Having dropped off those ministering to the women, I drive on alone, up the road to the men’s quarters. I pass Nicholas on the way, but he ignores me. Marcus, further on, gives a curt nod.
I park my car and, armed with some packets of biscuits and a Bible, walk up to greet the men sitting on a broken sofa, a sun-bleached kitchen chair and dilapidated plastic ones. Andrew ducks inside as I approach, but others greet me with enthusiasm.
This is Happy Valley, named by an anonymous humorist with a taste for irony. Situated on the side of a mountain, it is not a valley; neither, to many of its inhabitants, is it particularly happy. Yet this shelter for the homeless is my delight. God has given me the privilege of working with these people, many of whom would describe their lives as a complete shambles.
It’s a place of deep pain and destructive shame; of outbursts of anger and sullen retreat. A place of desperate cries for help, yet, often, refusal to accept it when offered. Many have made bad choices in life, which have left them alienated from their families, robbed of their livelihood and filled with crippling guilt. Yet it is a place of beautiful people whose treasure is buried deep.
What better place for Jesus? What better place to share His love and allow one’s heart to be broken along with His?
Behind each face, eloquent in its suffering, or impassive behind an unyielding wall, is a story of how Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.
Bruce found his best friend in bed with his wife. In a rage, he beat him up, not knowing that he had a medical condition that flared under the beating and killed him. Eighteen months later, acquitted of murder, Bruce emerged from prison with no wife, no business and a silent, raging heart.
Neil’s paintings hang in Europe’s galleries, but with the 2009 depression, financial difficulties wrecked his marriage. He found solace in the wrong places and lost everything.
Sharon left great work prospects in Johannesburg to follow the man of her dreams. He’d invited her to leave her work and join him in Cape Town. Two weeks later, he tried to murder her. She escaped with her life and the clothes on her back.The stories vary, but the need is the same. It’s the overarching need of all mankind, ripped open and laid bare through unbearable circumstances. It’s the need to forgive and be forgiven. It’s the need to be valued -- to count in the greater scheme of things. It's the need for Jesus.
It’s easy to be discouraged, when entering an open war zone in which the Enemy’s inflicted casualties abound. Hurting people hurt people. Yet God is at work always. Even in Happy Valley, there are people who love Jesus when they arrive, or who learn to love Him while they’re there.
Derek was chased from place to place as he slept on the streets. He started reading a Bible when a priest allowed him to sleep against the churchyard wall, and brought him sandwiches and tea in the morning. God made Himself known through His Word.
Andrew cannot stop talking about Jesus since finding him in a Christian rehab center.
Paul met Jesus on an Alpha Course we ran at Happy Valley. Jesus set him free from the bondage of an unhealthy relationship with a deranged girl who had dragged him, after his wife divorced him, from an executive post into the gutter.
Shelton is a Zimbabwean, promised a job in Cape Town that did not materialize. He also met Jesus on the Alpha Course. He’s now employed and has left Happy Valley, but comes to support those still there and tell them about Jesus.
It’s my delight to visit there. I dig for buried treasure. Most of them love me to pray with them. Their lives may be in complete shambles, but Jesus is the complete restorer. There’s no life He cannot mend.
There’s no greater joy than looking for the gold buried in the dirt, and seeing Jesus wash it clean and make it shine.
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I wrote the article above while in deep pain in my personal life. I had learned, when I went to China to repair cleft lips and palates only months after Penny died, that the best antidote for spiritual pain is to look outward and give to others. In spite of one’s circumstances, there are opportunities for each of us to reach out and to pray. There are hurting people, people who are sick, lonely people and the destitute. As we pray with them and not just for them, God ministers to us as well as them.
Although I have retired from anesthetics, I still find opportunities to pray with people. Not long ago, a homeless man approached me at a petrol station. I bought him a pie and offered to pray with him. As I prayed, tears overflowed from bloodshot eyes and trickled down his unkempt face mingling with his beard. Then he followed me like a shadow. He was not asking for money, or more to eat. He was thanking me over and over again for my prayer. It is my prayer that this book will encourage you to do the same, in looking for opportunities to pray with folk. God has designed us to partner with Him by lifting to Him the pain, the sorrow and the sickness of every one of us, the victims of the Fall. As we pray with those in need, it opens a door through which He enters with His redemptive love. And in God’s economy, as we obey, He has in store for us a glorious adventure.
Anyone can offer to pray, with the opening line that I used so often in the hospital: “I am a committed Christian and I’ve seen the way God is faithful in answering our prayers. I’d love to pray with you.” Or similar words that are appropriate and that you feel comfortable with.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph. 6:18)
Throughout my career and in my own personal life, I have been made aware of both the precarious fragility of life and the extraordinary tenacity with which we can cling to it in the face of overwhelming odds.
In the twinkling of an eye, our situation can change from secure and healthy to barely alive. We are constantly dependent on God to protect us, whether we are aware of it or not. Each day is a tightrope walk on a gossamer thread, as illustrated by the stories told in this book. In less than thirty seconds a healthy farmer is struggling for his life with toxic organisms flooding his bloodstream; in the time it takes to remove an appendix, a fit young girl is plunged on a course that will require a miracle to rescue her from death and save her limbs from gangrene; an apparently healthy woman discovers she has cancer that will kill her within the year.
Our life, as God designed it, has been compared to a soap bubble that floats through the air of our days, beautiful and tender, glistening with rainbow colors. But it can burst in a moment.
Yes, we are fragile and vulnerable, and yet, paradoxically, we are made with a divine resilience that allows us to take the severest of punishments and emerge victorious. A knife penetrates a heart, the heart stops at the operating room door and yet is restored and pumps life once more into a young man. A farmer’s lungs, liver and kidneys fail and yet, amazingly they recover. An old lady is at death’s door from respiratory failure, yet within two days of being on a ventilator, is restored to health.
The more I learn of the intricacies of the human body, and its ability to heal after the most adverse circumstances, the more I am in awe of our Creator. I never cease to wonder, for example, that in some craniofacial operations the surgeons take the bones of a child’s skull to another table and, as if in a carpenter’s workshop, they reshape them, wiring the pieces together. Then they return to the child, plate the re-formed forehead and brow back to the rest of the child’s skull and face and it actually grows there. This is the wonder of our healing body that God has made. If we will let Him, He can take that fragile bubble and protect it in His life-giving hands without it bursting.
Nevertheless, I believe He expects us to do our part. When Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, He asked the disciples to gather the crumbs from the first loaves and two fish before He multiplied them (John 6:12,13); when He urged the disciples to pray for harvesters for the Kingdom, He immediately sent them out as the very harvesters they had prayed for (Luke 10:2,3).
It was a miracle that Samantha’s limbs turned from black to pink, (see Chapter 10) but I ensured during all that time, that her blood pressure was sufficiently good to pump blood to those poor black limbs, that her blood was a sufficient consistency to carry the maximum amount of oxygen to the healing areas and that her lungs were filled with the right amount of oxygen. And the nursing sisters and I prayed over her consistently.
I have entitled this book Prayer, Medicine and Miracles and have deliberately tried to show that, in my experience, they are inextricably linked.
I believe that to practice medicine fully, one cannot exclude prayer and the expectation that God will work beyond what we can do on our own. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist tells us that our thought life and our spiritual life measurably affect our physical bodies. If we are ignoring these parts of our being, we are like a man repairing a kite to make it fly, yet neglecting the string to take it to the sky and the wind to carry it.
I have written of my experience as a physician, but it applies to each one of us, no matter our station in life. God wants to partner with us to bless those around us. Irrespective of our activity that brings us into contact with other people, if we combine that with prayer, we open the door for God to do a miracle in someone’s life.
Yet, if we are neglecting our own walk, how can we minister holistically to others?
If you sense that the spiritual component of your life is lacking and that this is either hindering your own experience of full health, or preventing you from fully ministering to others, may I suggest that you pray the prayer below. Hand the precious, fragile bubble filled with rainbow colors to the One who can preserve it for what it was intended to be and wait for a life filled with a love that is stronger than death and will lead you on a path of discovery that is as exciting and full of adventure as it is never-ending, even beyond the grave.
“Lord Jesus Christ, please forgive me for the things that I have done wrong in my life (take a few moments to ask forgiveness for anything specific that comes to mind). Thank you that you died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven. I receive your forgiveness and ask you to come into my life as my personal Savior. Come dwell with me and in me by the power of your Holy Spirit. I give my life to you. Amen”
Once you have prayed this prayer from your heart it is important to tell someone, just to consolidate that decision and to underline it when doubts come as to whether you really have done it. It is probably best to tell someone who will be pleased to hear it.
Then you need to find an alive, Bible-believing church to belong to, start to read your Bible daily (there are many Bible reading aids on the web) and talk to God (pray) daily.
Many years later, God heard my cry according to His promise: “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) NIV
I was living on my own, barely recovering from the devastation of a broken second marriage, when I received a phone call from someone I had worked with 37 years ago, and whose spirituality and excellence in the operating room I had always admired. She had read my book, God in the ICU, and wanted to compliment me and say how much it had touched her. I was pleased to hear from her, but deeply distrustful of women. I had already vowed that I would be single for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, God says “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) NKJV.
As we spoke over Skype and grew to know one another, I discovered a woman who loves God with all her heart and truly loves me deeply; I found I could laugh again. God showed His incredible love for me through Dorelle, and there were times, in my Quiet Time with Him, when I thought my heart would burst with all the love that filled my heart. All the pain from the misunderstanding of friends and acquaintances, that inevitably accompanies a broken relationship, was replaced with a joy that left me singing songs of praise, surging from an overflowing heart. We are now married and living in deep contentment and shalom — with all that that word means — as we sense the hand of God leading us to reflect His love to those around.
[And can it be
That the girl of my dreams
Has come to me in flesh and blood
Has come to truly love me?
Can it be true
That all my longings
All my yearnings through the years
Are met in one sweet face
One warm embrace?
Could this be real, this fullness in my heart
That wants to burst with overwhelming love
That spills into my eyes
With tears of love and joy?
Have I really found a love so pure, so innocent of guile
That longs for me as I so long for her
And kisses me, not only with her lips
But with each tender word,
That speaks of love and care?
[Dear Lord in heaven, how can I give thanks?
How can I respond to all the love You show
Through each tingling touch, each warm embrace?
The coolness and the softness of her skin as we caress
Stirs my heart, suffuses me with
Tenderness and sensual delight
That mingle like a cheerful bubbling brook
That tumbles to a deep embracing pool.
Such joy and fun and yet such passion
Who can understand but God,
Who made us for each other to enjoy?
What depth, what height, what overwhelming joy
Awaits the man who truly, truly loves
And looks to God to take him to his dreams.
[Lord, take this love You’ve given us
And as it bursts its banks and overflows
And touches those You’ve put across our path
May it return to You in gratitude
Reflecting in a way for all to see
The love of Jesus for His Bride
And of her impassioned loving answer.
Jesus, be the Centre.
If you would like to read more, you can download a short anthology of hospital stories with a spiritual message from my landing page:
You might also like to read my first book, God in the ICU.
Here’s an extract:
Extract from God in the ICU
A Puzzling Illness: Prayer As A Witness
“And I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd.” (John 10:16)
It is a desperately helpless feeling to see someone critically ill but to not know what the problem is. Such was the case with Fatima, a 50-year-old Egyptian lady. As she lay on the ICU bed, her large, corpulent body, sweating and flushed with fever, heaved with every laboured breath. Her heart was racing and her pulse, full and bounding, shook her body with a tremulous shudder with every heartbeat. She appeared to be in septic shock, but what was the cause? She had a painful abdomen but on examination there was little to find. X-rays, ultrasound and a CT scan had all been negative.
Quickly we worked to resuscitate her. First, she needed sedation, a tube in her windpipe and assistance with her breathing. Then all our monitoring lines: one through a vein into her heart to measure the pressure there; another into an artery for continuous blood pressure readings; a catheter in her bladder to check her kidney function; a pulse oximeter on her finger, continuously measuring the oxygen in her blood; and then antibiotics and an infusion of adrenaline.
For an intensivist, there is great satisfaction in all the instrumentation and monitoring that is part of the work. To approach a patient and, like a pilot checking the state of his flight, look at the instruments and see at a glance the state of the patient’s heart, lungs, and kidneys, gives one an illusion of absolute control. But it is an illusion. Like the weatherman reading the signs and telling us what the weather will be, but with no control over it, the intensivist, too, is just reading the signs. There are so many variables from there on; the choice of treatment, the virulence of the disease, the resilience of the patient, the functioning of the machines and the side-effects of any management. They all emphasise that we are constantly dependent on a caring, powerful God who is waiting to respond to our prayers.
The surgeons and I felt anything but in control of Fatima’s condition. She was not improving. The surgeons thought that the problem might be in her abdomen, but they were reluctant to subject someone so unwell to a major operation without a definite diagnosis. The stress of an operation would certainly make her worse. After three days of vacillation, with Fatima still desperately ill, they decided they must operate. They would need to take an exploratory look into her abdomen to determine and, if possible, rectify the cause. It was particularly hazardous. Fatima’s size, her shocked state and the drugs she was receiving to keep her blood pressure normal meant that she would be very unstable under the anaesthetic. On starting the anaesthetic wild fluctuations in her blood pressure and heart rate kept me constantly checking, adjusting fluids, administering drugs, checking again. Like a walk on a tightrope, it was a balancing act titrating the anaesthetic. A little too much and her blood pressure plummeted. Too little and she could regain consciousness. So it was particularly disappointing that no cause for her condition was found at surgery. As we finished the operation and wheeled her back to the ICU she was in a parlous state and unlikely to survive.
Her husband, Magdi, had kept away prior to the operation, watching apprehensively from a distance as his wife was subjected to the alien electronic world of bouncing screen traces and bleeps and alarms and needles and tubes and bellows. But now he was by my side, fidgeting absent-mindedly with his prayer beads as he listened to the bad news. We could find no cause for his wife’s predicament. It was likely to progress and the operation had made it worse.
For the next 48 hours Fatima lay precariously between life and death. Morning and evening Magdi, his face pale and jaw tense, would come through and ask me stiffly if there was any progress. Each day I had the same reply, “No change.”
On the evening of the second day, as I was attending to her, with Magdi hovering anxiously nearby, still fingering his prayer beads and with extracts from the Qur’an scattered on her bed, I sensed that I should openly lay hands on Fatima and pray for her. I suggested this to Magdi but he pretended not to hear. Still, I sensed an urging in my spirit to pray. Again I suggested it and again he acted as if he had not heard me. Finally I said, “I would really like to pray for your wife and ask my God to heal her,” and, without waiting for any response from him, I laid hands on her and asked God, in the name of Jesus, to heal her.
As I walked away, I felt an exhilarating lightness in my spirit and a definite whisper from God, “She is healed!” Sure enough, by that evening she had improved considerably. The next morning, a strained and tense husband asked me how she was. As I told him that she had improved markedly, I was unprepared for the reaction. He threw his arms around me and kissed me profusely on my neck and cheeks. Hot and flustered, struggling to regain composure at this distinctly Egyptian (and far from Western), response, I managed to stammer that God is good and that Magdi must now try to get some rest. He said he would, but “Was I going to pray some more?” I assured him that I was.
Fatima improved daily, though we never knew what had caused her illness. Every morning, as I entered the ICU, Magdi was waiting at the door with the same question, “Are you going to pray?” and a visible sighs of relief when I said that I was.
Within a week Fatima was discharged from the ICU and she continued to make good progress in the ward. We never discovered the cause of her illness. Unfortunately my schedule did not allow me to see them again. I had to rest content that I was a witness in a chain of events that the Lord had prepared to make Himself known to that special couple from Egypt. God keeps us humble, sometimes, by not allowing us to see the end of His plan. However, so Spirit-led was the encounter, that I have no doubt that He who began the good work in them will be faithful to complete it.
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)
Dave Walker was an ambitious anesthesiologist, determined to be the best in his field. Yet it was only when he had an encounter with the living Christ and started praying with his patients, that he witnessed healing far beyond what medicine alone could provide. As you read, you will walk with him through his first encounter with a dead man, witness the drama of rescuing a young man stabbed in the heart, share his alarm and fervent prayer as the hands and feet of a young woman turn blue, then black while she battles septicemia. You will hear the praise of an exuberant crowd prayer walking through a prison, and feel the contemptuous scowl of a man in "solitary". You will sit with him with men from a homeless shelter and hear their stories of how Jesus saves. You will share in the power of prayer to rescue a man in ICU from multiple organ failure and marvel at the work of God through a young woman condemned to die. In this gripping account of the intervention of a loving God who brings healing in the lives of those we pray for, you will find yourself encouraged, edified and challenged. Above all, you will see the hand of God moving through the power of prayer. This is a story to inspire believers and encourage doubters.