Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Divine Appointment"

Some patient interactions make a strong impression on me. Sometimes it is because of an unusual diagnosis. But usually it's because I connect with a patient who is a Christian and is going through a very difficult time. Such an incident happened this week that I won't forget anytime soon.

I was just a few days into my internal medicine rotation, seeing patients in a clinic with an attending physician. Internal medicine is the field I'm interested in going into so I'm hoping I will like this rotation. The second or third patient of the day was called and entered the room. My first impression of the patient was that he was an elderly man who looked to be in a good physical state. He had no problem getting around and smiled widely as he shook my hand and the hand of the attending physician. As the doctor asked him why he had come to clinic that day it became obvious that this man had a very serious diagnosis, one with the potential to cause a lot of suffering and which had already caused a good deal of suffering in the days prior to his presentation to our clinic.

It turned out that this patient had gone to the ER with severe pain in one of his bones a few days earlier. In the ER they had ordered an X-ray and then a bone scan which revealed cancer that had metastasized to many different areas of this man's skeleton. Only in the last week had one of these metastases began to cause severe pain. The patient had been diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer years earlier but the treatment had obviously been unsuccessful and now, barring a miracle, this man would most likely die from this cancer.

It struck me during the interview that this patient had a more severe diagnosis than any I had seen recently and he was also currently in a great deal of pain. But unlike many patients I see every week with less severe diagnoses he had a peace about him. He was friendly and smiled as he interacted with us.

At some point during the interview he mentioned, for some reason, that he had been a pastor. This piqued my curiosity but I thought that in the presence of my attending physician I would not get to explore this further. The fact that this man's diagnosis seemed so severe also made it difficult for me to consider talking about things not relating to that diagnosis. As the interview progressed the patient commented on how the hospital seemed very busy and it reminded him of when he had been a hospital chaplain in Kentucky. I mentioned that I had lived in Kentucky for a couple of years and the patient said, "I also went to seminary in Kentucky." Now he really had my attention and I said, "so did I, outside of Lexington." The patient still didn't expect that we shared any deeper connection and he said, "oh, I went to a small seminary called Asbury." I smiled and told him that I also went to Asbury. At this point I wasn't sure what the attending was thinking as I had just began working with her. But I was happy when she said she needed to step out for a moment and encouraged us to both keep reminiscing. And that we did.

We found that God had touched both of us at a wonderful place called Asbury Theological Seminary. We were far enough apart in age that we had shared none of the same professors but we had enough in common to enjoy talking of our memories of Asbury and Kentucky. When I asked what denomination he had pastored in he said "United Methodist," but quickly added that he had been one of the few conservative evangelicals in California. I could sympathize with him when he told me that it got so bad in the California-Pacific Annual Conference that he and the handful of other Bible-believing United Methodist pastors just quit going to annual conference. He told me that his family had finally left the United Methodist Church for a conservative, Bible-believing church. We were both encouraged by our conversation and with a big smile this elderly gentleman proclaimed that this was a "divine appointment." I agreed. I asked him if I could pray for him and just after I had started praying the attending walked into the room. We both straightened up but I hoped that I would be able to finish my prayer for him at some point.

The attending physician asked a few more questions, did a focused physical exam, and then formulated her plan to our patient. It looked like it would all be over soon when I was surprised to hear her ask, "is it alright if I pray for you?" The patient explained that I had already started praying earlier and said he would be happy if we all prayed together. So the three of us held hands and my attending prayed a wonderful Christ-focused prayer.

It was a great experience. And even though I grieve for what this man and his family might go through in the coming months, I'm thankful that he and his family know the Lord and have a hope of eternal life beholding, worshipping and knowing Him more and more. Seeing a patient with so much peace and even the ability to encourage those around him in the midst of pain and a potentially frightening diagnosis also made me think that this was evidence of God's grace in his life. I've seen many other patients with far less severe diagnoses who were angry, bitter and left the clinicians they met tired and cynical. But this man was a blessing to those he came in contact with. May God have mercy on him and his family.


Anonymous said...

Wow Matt, what a truly a touching story! You never really know whose life you will touch when doing your job; that was totally a God thing. The fact that you both had such similar backgrounds, you were able to really connect. I’m glad that you were there to be an encouragement to him at this particularly hard time and pray with him. I’m so excited for you as you begin your IM rotations. May God bless each encounter that you have with your patients and I pray that you will have many more opportunities to touch lives as you did today! I hope too that this elderly gentleman will not suffer greatly as his disease progresses.
Bless you,

Matt Perkins said...

Thanks A.J.

Anonymous said...

I guess with your blog Matt my aversion to posting has gone out the I'm the SDA 'soon to be med student' who's studying for the MCAT...thanks for the encouragement and study tips btw. It's funny too because Internal Medicine is where my interest lies...I don't think I came across your blog by accident so we've GOT to stay in

Sharing your faith...I need boldness because I feel so inadequate to be a representative of Christ yet so many souls need to know of His love. When the attending offered to pray...I'd like to think that maybe- that was the Holy Spirit's way of encouraging and reassuring you in your desire and efforts to share your faith.

God Bless you Matt and may He keep you strong and faithful.


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

Thank you for the 'chicken soup'--I was in need of some having just come home from the funeral of one of my little patients who died suddenly at Doernbecher. Not to dwell on sorrow...Nonetheless, I was struck at the service by this family's tremendous faith in Christ and hope for the resurrection. I cannot even fathom losing a child, and the notion of doing so without a knowledge of God's plan through the Savior humbles me with wonder that I am so blessed. Truly, there is still much work to be done in God's vineyard--medically and spiritually.

Hearing your story of interaction with your patient surprised me. I can only imagine a work environment where providers are allowed to ask patients in the facilities if they may pray for and with them. My nursing education frowned on the notion of providers pressing their beliefs on patients at all--even if it seems appropriate to us in the moment. I even watched classmates be reprimanded over this. I guess we can all decide for ourselves which view is the conservative or liberal one.

Which brings me to my Question for Saturday:
You mentioned your patient leaving the UMC for a 'conservative' church. I've always thought Methodists were pretty conservative. What makes a church conservative v. liberal? And why do you think one is better than another? (If you do)

I hope the rest of your weekend goes well.


Scarlet Pimpernel

Matt Perkins said...

Hey SP,

Good to hear from you again and sorry about the death of your patient.

The UMC is about as far from "conservative" as you can get on the west coast. In some parts of the country it's not so bad, like in Kentucky where I went to seminary there are some great Methodist churches.

When I refer to churches being liberal or conservative theologically I mean one thing. Either they do or do not strive to be in complete submission to the Word of God - the Bible. I grew up in a liberal church and people there would say that they believed the Bible but it was only lip-service. The minute some issue regarding human morality or God's perfect holiness and His righteous wrath toward sinners was brought up these same people would talk about how certain biblical texts are now out of date. There are conservatives who I think get too political and who at times misuse Scripture to back up their political ideology but I've never seen it done so flagrantly as I saw it done in a liberal church. If one verse could be twisted to support some liberal political ideal it would be twisted and proclaimed to be God's word but if the very next verse was seen as patriarchal or homophobic it would be declared to be out-of-date and culture-bound. Theological conservatives aren't perfect but all of the conservatives I've been around have at least been willing to be confronted by Scripture which might go against some belief of theirs and if they are convinced that Scripture is saying something contrary to what they have believed they will change their belief. A liberal would never do this. If one of their beliefs is challenged by Scripture they will just say they have a different "interpretation" which in reality is a refutation or they'll be slightly more honest and just tell you that that scripture is outdated and should be ignored. I know because sadly I was once a liberal but God by His grace brought me out of that delusion.

Anonymous said...

You have once again succeeded in bowling me over, brother.

I'm not sure I follow your thought about parts of the Bible being outdated. In all honesty, I'm not sure I follow the scripture at all on this, as it's a little confusing. After all, Jeremiah 31:31 promises "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel," and in the Gospel of Matthew, we read Christ Himself giving the sermon in chapter 5 with statements of "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time...But I say..."

Now, just a few pages before this, at the very end of the OT, Malachi says "For I am the Lord, I change not;" And following the sermon on the mount, we find in 1 Peter 1:25 "But the word of the Lord endureth forever."

So, I guess it really is up to debate whether parts of the Bible are "outdated" or not.

Certainly, well meaning Christians who are honestly trying to understand scripture will read the same words and come away with a different understanding of their meaning--or no understanding at all:) Which, of course, accounts for there being so many denominations. And, it would follow, such differing political views among people of a supposedly common faith. Maybe I am just guilty of thinking too highly of everyone.

Perhaps it's time to go back and examine Proverbs again. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding." Prov 3:5

I hope this doesn't mean I can't continue to hassle a knowledgeable brother now and again;)

So as I wrap this up I realize I haven't actually left a question, but I'm sure you could find several weak spots to approach, if you have the time and I haven't bored you to tears...

Have a good week in IM!

Scarlet Pimpernel

Matt Perkins said...

Hey SP,

I don't think anything in the Bible qualifies as "outdated." Certainly there were things in the OT like the sacrificial system and the capital punishment for various sins which pointed to Christ who came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. When it comes to the "You have heard that it was said" statements in the Sermon on the Mount, only one could be seen as approaching a contradiction, that being Matt. 5:38-39 where individual retaliation is prohibited. But the pattern of the rest of those statements is only clarifying and strengthening commands given in the OT and I think that's what's happening with Matt. 5:38-39 too. One of those examples from the Sermon on the Mount, v. 43: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'" doesn't even appear in the OT so this shows that Christ was not contradicting the OT in these statements but correcting misinterpretations and traditions.

You quoted a few places which affirm the truth that God is unchanging. Another one is Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

The Bible contains an unfolding revelation of who God is but since God is unchanging anything that is revealed about Him can never be out of date because it never ceases to be true.

I know that well-meaning Christians can read the same words and come away with different understandings sometimes. But every statement of truth made in Scripture has only a certain range of interpretations which qualify as not being a denial of what is written. A person could read all of the places where baptism is talked about in the NT and come away believing that baptism is only for believing adults or that it is also okay for infants. Neither one denies the complete witness of the NT. But if like among some Quakers water baptism is denied all-together that is not faithfulness to Scripture, that is a denial of Scripture. Of course certain issues are less clear and some are more clear. I'm certainly willing to see people who claim to be Christians and believe differently in some of those areas which are less clear in Scripture as my brothers and sisters in Christ. But if something like Baptism or the divinity of Christ or His atoning death is denied then I cannot see that person who denies something so clear as a brother or sister in Christ.

Jane said...

Hi Matt,
What a precious testimony of God working as you serve others.

God is the Healer as He provides wisdom to the doctors to heal who He has created.

John 20:21 - Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you," and He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit..."

Your experience shows me this text in action and encourages me to do the same. Put into action God's work that He has purposed The Church to accomplish.

Scripture, Reason and Tradition move me beyond debate over interpretation as I,too, have experienced the hijacking of a great denomination by liberal theives who twist the relevancy of this or that Scripture. The fourth branch of that statement should conclude with Service because that is what the Passover footwashing instituted, service (not debate).

God bless you with wisdom beyond Solomon each and every time you see a person with medical needs that the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead would be released to work.