A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician
Image: Josh Andrus

My eyes darted to the tracing on the cardiac monitor. The gaps between my patient’s heartbeats lengthened. The plodding rhythm meant that blood, oozing from beneath his fractured skull, was crowding out his brain.

He was 22, and someone had bludgeoned him with a baseball bat in his sleep. His wife, lying beside him, died during the assault. His four-year-old son witnessed everything.

I thrived on the urgency of the emergency room—the chaos, the opportunities to reach people in dire moments. Yet as I placed my patient’s central venous line, I struggled to focus. I thought of his four-year-old son in footed pajamas, and the images of brutality he might never forget.

As I wrestled with these thoughts, paramedics rushed in with a 15-year-old boy dying from a gunshot wound. They were performing compressions to force oxygen-rich blood to his brain. In a blur of adrenaline, I grasped a scalpel and surgically explored his chest. I cupped his still heart and searched its borders with trembling fingers. When my hand plunged into a yawning hole, I caught my breath. The bullet had torn open his aorta. We could not save him.

As I fought tears, my trauma pager blared yet again. Another 15-year-old boy. Another gunshot wound. This time, the bullet had struck the boy’s head.

I tried to compose myself. The least I could do, I thought, was to mend his wound, clean him, and give his family a final glimpse of the boy they loved.

Midway through my work, the door opened. I raised my eyes in time to see his mother walk into the room. She froze, howled, and crumpled to the floor. I tugged the bloodied gloves from my hands, rushed from the room, and hid my face as I cried.

Cut Off from God

The next morning, as I finished my shift, ...

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A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician
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March 2017

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