There is likely no time in a Christian Ophthalmologist?s life when their prayers are more fervent, frequent, and fevered as when they are a newly-minted young attending. At least, having finished residency 5 months ago, this is sure how I find things to be. Something that was modeled for me during training, and that I continue now, is the practice of praying with patients during their preop visits. Unbeknownst to those patients, I am sometimes also furiously praying in the middle of their surgeries that their loose zonules will just keep holding on. In clinic I have had a few strange cases and find myself praying that I will have enough wisdom to diagnose and treat the patient in the exam chair. Being a fresh attending is fairly widely recognized as a worrisome and unsure time in any physician?s career so, mostly, I find myself praying for the power to make it through a situation in front of me. In the midst of this season of prayer in my life I recently stumbled across a sermon series by Dr. Albert Mohler on the Lord?s prayer, and it made me think that I should examine my prayers more closely to find if they match the sort of prayers we find in scripture.
I have noticed that during tough surgeries I find myself asking for the Lord to give me the strength to get through the case without complication. I can definitely find plenty of biblical references about the Lord giving his people strength but in all of those references God is clearly at the center of the action, not man. In 2 Timothy 4:17 Paul writes, ?But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.? Paul who was likely writing from captivity and who had suffered greatly for sharing the gospel, states that he was strengthened by the Lord to overcome opposition to God?s word. The Lord gave him strength to overcome obstacles standing in the way of the gospel. Is that the kind of strength I am asking for when I pray during surgery? I am usually praying from more selfish motives of not having to deal with postoperative complications or maybe the slightly more noble hope that my patient would not have limited vision after surgery. I doubt that, in the moment, I am often concerned directly with how God will be glorified by me stopping an iris from prolapsing. Something tells me that Paul was a bit more directly concerned with those matters in his day to day work. And I should be, too.
In other references I find slightly different wording about strength: namely that the Lord is our strength. Exodus 15:2 says ?The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.? The same wording is found in Isaiah 12 and Psalm 118. This is very comforting to me. If I ask the Lord to give me the strength to accomplish a task then He may grant me that request. But if I learn to rely completely on the Lord as my strength then what limits could possibly be imposed on that fount of power? We know that our God is ?in the heavens and does all that he pleases.? Isaiah tells us that the heavens are His throne and the earth is His footstool. If I was truly relying on this God as my strength, I would probably have much less worry. The Psalmist says ?God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.? If this is true and God is my refuge, then maybe even when the capsule gives way and the nucleus is moved into the heart of the vitreous? I can learn to hope in the Lord and not succumb to fear.
We are ophthalmologists and in the midst of surgery, in the moment the keratome hits the cornea between those RK incisions or when a rhexis starts to radialize, I think we are all mostly mentally consumed with surgical technique and decision making. When we see a granulomatous uveitis, a differential immediately comes to mind and guides the rest of the exam. That?s probably for the best since the Lord has entrusted these patients to our care. Colossians 3:23 teaches us ?Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.? So we should strive to do ophthalmology as expertly as possible. Although our work can be consuming, we can do this work for the Lord.
But as I have learned by examining my own prayer life, even when we are asking the Lord to help us be good ophthalmologists it can be hard to focus on why we do this in the midst of actually doing it. So, I?ve started making it a point to pray before my day starts. I ask that the Lord would not simply give me strength, but that in my weakness he would be my strength. I ask that He would guide my decisions and protect my patients and be their fortress as He is mine. I thank Him that He is my God and has promised to be with me, so I need not fear or be dismayed. I ask that no matter what, He will be glorified in the work I do. I try to give my clinic and OR schedule to the Lord and I try my best to give Him the glory that is rightfully His at the end of the day.
And maybe if I pray this way long enough then one day an older attending version of myself will have a different response to trials. Maybe he will be reflexively reliant on his God as his strength and will not fear no matter the situation. At least that?s what I?m praying for.
Author Eddie Mengarelli recently finished residency at Scott and White in Temple, Texas and has joined the McDonald Eye Associates in Fayetteville and Rogers, AR.