A young doctor, checking on one of his own patients in a private hospital, was asked to certify the death of a premature baby born hours before. Instead of assuming the child’s death, the doctor detected life and began resuscitation procedures: in this case, his mouth covering the baby’s mouth and nose, while holding his four fingers “under the baby’s spine”, and the thumb of the other gently compressing the baby’s chest. A faint heart beat resulted and an “umbilical catheter” was inserted to feed fluids.
- While in the hospital other pediatricians asked the doctor why he hadn’t attended their meeting. He told them he had received no memo of the meeting. It also struck him that he, of all pediatricians in the hospital, had experience in resuscitating a preemie.
- His job completed, he pushed the baby across the street to the critical care team. He didn’t bother to enter the mother’s room to ask her name, to offer sympathy or encouragement, to explain what he had done to save her baby, or even to learn the baby’s sex.
In church the following Sunday, the church pastor stopped services to “pray for a family with a sick baby” at the hospital. It occurred to the doctor that it was the baby he saved from death without realizing it belonged to a church family.
That interrupted service, seeking God’s help for a family’s newborn, got Doc’s attention—and he began regarding his patients as real people. A year or so later an article appeared in the Charleston paper about a baby who “survived after months of care at” a local hospital. The doctor knew that was his baby and “he started thinking more about how he practiced medicine”. Nevertheless, medical expertise, not pastoral care, occupied his time in the next ten years. Then as a Bible teacher at church, he realized “he was missing something. He realized it was compassion.” It surprised him in relating to patients after this that he would quite unconsciously find himself emotional and tearing-up. It took him awhile to diagnose it as the compassion he prayed for.
In January, 2013, in the hospital he was serving, another premature baby—a 23-week preemie—was anticipated. Since the hospital neonatologist wasn’t on duty, Doc offered to stay to deliver and care for the preemie. As he waited, he shared with a nurse his experience of 37 years before with another preemie. Another nurse overheard, came over and got involved in the conversation. She asked if he knew the baby’s name and the newspaper article about it. He remembered neither, but he did recall that the newspaper article was titled something like, “The Million Dollar Baby”—the hospital bill.
The nurse corrected the title—from Million Dollar Baby to “The Miracle Baby.” In fact, she knew the name of the baby, the name of the mother and the name of the father. Because, “she was that baby.” A 36 year old neonatal nurse herself, and the mother of two, she had worked with the doctor for five years taking care of newborns, without knowing their life-connection from 37 years before.
The revelation jolted him. He hadn’t taken time 37 years before to have compassion on a crisis-ridden mother and father. In the three months the little preemie stayed in the hospital fighting for life, the doctor had made no effort to visit the parents. And, until the meeting 37 years later, the parents didn’t: know their daughter had stopped breathing before the doctor revived her; know he should have been at a meeting, not in the neonatal care unit. And, while they viewed him as hero, he considered himself a “jerk” for not having compassion equal to his technical skills. (World Magazine, 52-53, January 25, 2014)
Whatever our task, and however skilled we are at it, Jesus reminds us that it’s his LOVE, not our skill, which identifies us as his children John 13:34-35.