Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Accident

I just want to share this short story I have read this morning from the online version of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I always have been a fan of this book series. Really warms up my heart .. and my soul. Life is .. strange and so full of surprises and .. so full of signs. Do you believe in signs? Like asking from God a sign before making a momentous decision? For me, I have asked God super multiple times for signs .. and I guess I was just too blind to see the signs or maybe my faith was enough to generate the sign. In due time, He will show me the sign.

So here it goes. May your heart and soul be warmed up ...

The Accident From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith

It was, after all, a mistake. It had been one of the worse nights of my residency. There had been so many admissions that I had virtually lost count, and I barely was able to keep up with the needs of my own patients, much less all the other ones I was cross covering. I was desperately rushing to finish checking labs and ordering tests before hurrying off to morning report.

Later that day, I was struggling to fight back fatigue and finish rounds when I received a page to report to Radiology immediately.


“Oh great” I thought. “Now what’s wrong?” However, upon my arrival I was the sudden focus of congratulations and pats on the back.

“Great pickup!” they said. “Look at that,” one of the radiologists said, pointing to films from an upper GI series hanging on the view box.

“A small bowel tumor, classic appearance!” I stood there dumbfounded; I had no idea what they were talking about. I picked up the chart and leafed through it. Yes, I had ordered the upper GI, but it wasn’t my patient. Then I realized what had happened. In my haste to keep up with everything the prior evening, I had ordered an upper GI on the wrong patient!

Looking closer at the chart I learned that the patient was a priest, and director of a local Catholic college. He had been complaining of cough and fever, as well as nonspecific malaise and therefore, as was common in those bygone days, was admitted to the hospital for an evaluation. After the upper GI revealed a cancer of the bowel, he was operated on the very next day. The surgeon had paged me to the operating room to show me, saying, “You really saved this guy. I’ve never caught one of these this early before.” I was too embarrassed to say anything, so I nodded my head politely and walked out. I didn’t tell a soul what had happened.

The hectic pace of residency quickly resumed and the incident was soon forgotten.

About a week later, I was paged to the surgical floor. When I returned the call, a nurse informed me that one of the patients wanted to speak with me. I told her that I didn’t have any patients there. She replied, “It’s a priest, and he’s quite insistent on speaking with you.” I froze and felt a deep sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

In a near trancelike state, I slowly made my way to his room. As I entered, I had a sudden urge to throw myself at his feet saying, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” but instead I quietly introduced myself and took a seat by his bed. A distinguished-looking man in his late fifties, he had piercing eyes that seemed to stare directly into my soul.

“Were you the one who ordered the test on me?”

I nodded my head and said nothing.

“Why?” he asked.

“It was... an accident,” I stammered. I told him everything, the words almost pouring out of me, a relief to finally tell someone. He appeared pale and said nothing for a long time, the two of us sitting in utter silence. After a while he finally spoke. “The last several months have been something of a spiritual crisis for me. I had begun to question how I had spent my life, and the very core of my beliefs. I was offered a new and important position, but I didn’t feel capable or worthy of it. Then, I began to feel ill and I was going to turn the offer down.” He paused, “Since the surgery my symptoms seem to have disappeared. I now know what I should do. You see, my son, I believe there are no accidents. When they came to take me for that GI test, I knew that something was amiss, yet at the very same time I felt deeply that I had to go.”

He seemed to sit more erect in bed and his voice gathered force. “The day before I had prayed for some sort of sign to guide me, and now I understand that you were chosen to be its instrument.”

As he spoke, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise and a strange sensation came over me.

I sat there stunned, not knowing what to say or think. The priest smiled. “Such talk troubles you, doesn’t it?”

I told him of my own inner struggles trying to reconcile reason and faith in the context of my own religious tradition. “Ah,” he replied, “one of your people grappled with such questions long ago. I will introduce you to him.”

My beeper summoned me. As I rose to leave he asked that I wait for a moment and sit on his bed. He placed his hand upon my head and said, “I offer you my thanks in the words your people once taught us. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may He lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace...”

Several months later, I was called to the hospital’s mailroom to sign for a package that had just arrived for me from Europe. I was shocked to see that it had come from the Vatican. Opening it I found it was from the same priest, except instead of Father his title was now Monsignor, a special assistant to the Pope. Inside was a short note that said, “As you once helped me through my spiritual turmoil, may this aid you through yours.” Enclosed was a beautiful bound English translation of the great physician/philosopher Moses Maimonides’ monumental work on the struggle between faith and reason, The Guide of the Perplexed.

I walked to the small patient garden next to the hospital entrance, sat, and heard the soft songs of the birds and caught the smell of the spring blossoms in the clean air.

I sat holding the book and was lost in thought for a long time.

Maybe there are no mistakes.

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