Recently, I was surprised to hear a 30-year-old patient say that I had operated on her for crossed eyes when she was only seven years old. I didn’t think I had been in practice long enough to have been her surgeon! I didn’t recognize her or her name as she had been married since I last saw her. But when she told me the story, I instantly remembered.
One Sunday morning while driving to church, her 16-year-old sister had crashed their car. Her sister died at the scene, and her mother had severe lower extremity injuries. At seven years old my patient had sustained multiple cervical fractures causing a Brown Sequard Syndrome so that she could not move one side of her body. She also had a complete Cranial Nerve VI palsy causing double vision as she had no function of her lateral rectus muscle and was suffering through constant diplopia. This case stood out to me because I knew the family, and my pediatric ophthalmology attending allowed me to perform vessel sparing superior and inferior recti recessions in an attempt to bring some degree of abduction of the eye.
By God’s mercy, over time, she regained near full function of her upper and lower extremities. And after some more surgery, while not being able to fully abduct her eye, she now only has diplopia in far gaze to the paralytic side.
Having been in practice for over 20 years, I’m occasionally surprised by people telling me stories of my treating them during times of crisis in their lives. As surgeons we see so many people that we remember only the most unique stories and may not recall them unless prompted. To us they are one of tens of thousands. To the patient, those encounters may be among the most significant events of their lives. Being present in those times of crisis is one of the privileges of being a physician.
After talking for a while, I asked her what it was like for her to have gone through this experience at such a young age. It was so encouraging to hear her say that she had learned to thank God every day for the ability to walk, use her arm, and not see double. Then she said the most shocking thing….What she remembers most about the surgery I did is being so hungry beforehand and hearing me tell a joke about macaroni and cheese….I was thankful that she laughed as she said it.
Often, I pray that God gives me the words that patients need for the moment. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Clearly, I failed in that situation. I wish I could say she remembered some profound words of spiritual encouragement that I gave to her. Her words reminded me of the admonition in Mathew 12:36 that we will, “give account for every careless word…”
Thankfully, this patient and God are forgiving and give second chances. Just today, while thinking about what to write about this story, God brought me into moments of need for more patients. A lady with a metastatic brain cancer that she was choosing not to treat asked me if I could do anything to help her see in her final days on earth. Another man was crying from grief as I entered the room because of the recent unexpected death of his daughter. As physicians God gives us moments with people at their most vulnerable and desperate times. May we continually walk in His Spirit, with His word filling us, so that we have the fitting words to point people to comfort and salvation in Christ in their time of need.
— J.D. Bonner, MD
Do you have something you would like to share with our membership to spiritually edify and encourage living out our faith in practice? Email Bryan@cosw.org and let us know!