MISSING—ONE KNIFE

The operating room was gleaming with the multiplied perfections of modern equipment. Not only was everything spotless, but the cool, conditioned air was constantly subjected to the purifying light rays which reduced even normal bacteria to a minimum.

Two surgeons, along with residents under training, were standing motionless in their pale green sterilized gowns and caps, their faces partially covered by germ-inhibited masks.

Both the chief surgeon and his first assistant were men whose years of arduous training and experience had earned for them certification in their surgical specialty. They were members of a number of learned societies. The elder of the two had only recently been honored by his associates by being made chief-of-staff of the hospital, and just prior to that he had been the president of a society of distinguished surgeons.

The patient, draped with sterile sheets and towels, was breathing deeply as the anesthetic began to take effect.

Then the anesthetist looked up and nodded his head. The patient was ready.

On the Mayo stands and the tables adjacent to the operating table there was a shining array of instruments, each designed for a specific purpose—clamps, clips, retractors, spreaders, scissors, sutures of various kinds—everything needed to facilitate the operation.

The surgeon finished draping the patient, already thoroughly prepared by scrubbing and the application of antiseptic solutions. Then, looking around he took up first one instrument, and laid it down, and took up another, and laid it down.

No incision was made! He did not me the knife.

Fingering the various instruments, the surgeon went from one to the other, looking at one, making futile passes with another.

It was a strange pantomime. Under perfect surroundings, with a patient who desperately needed surgery, the entire procedure consisted of meaningless motions.

Naturally, some in the room were disturbed, others were confused, and some were exasperated.

After an hour, the patient was rolled from the operating to the recovery room.

There he was cared for until fully reacted from the anesthetic, then he was taken to his room where relatives waited anxiously to see him. Friends sent in flowers and messages, evidences of their love and concern.

Before long it was obvious that the patient was no better. The same old symptoms recurred. There was still pain and weakness. Why was the patient no better?

Hospital authorities were asked to investigate. The surgical staff met and discussed the case and also a number of similar ones which had occurred in the same hospital. Every step in the patient’s history was gone over again and again in an honest attempt to uncover the cause of repeated failures to cure these patients.

One night during a general staff meeting, the mystery was again under discussion. The internes and residents were encouraged to share in the procedures. One young man, not considered as bright or promising as some of the others, ventured to speak up:

“Mr. Chief-of-Staff,” he said, “I have scrubbed in on a number of these unsuccessful operations and there is one thing I have repeatedly noticed: the surgeon does not use the knife. There is no incision, no bleeding, no going down to the source of the illness, nothing is removed; when the patient leaves the operating room, he is in exactly the same condition as when he went in.”

“But,” the chief surgeon said, “the knife is old; it is full of imperfections; I do not trust the quality of its steel; in fact I feel that it is more an ornament than an instrument—something suitable to keep on the table, but not necessary or effective in the complicated surgical conditions confronting us today.”

The interne was subdued, but as we left the room we thought we heard him mutter under his breath: “Those poor patients! They are still sick; they leave the hospital just like they came in. Surely something is wrong. Why don’t they me the knife?”

The Sunday morning service was about to begin. The sanctuary was filled with quiet, well-dressed, well-fed people. They were comfortable, thanks to air conditioning and cushioned pews.

In all of the city there was not a finer pipe organ, and the man at the console was a master in his profession. The choir was well paid and highly trained. The whole atmosphere was one of quietness, reverence, and expectancy.

The minister and his associate took their places and the order of service proceeded with the quiet dignity and efficiency of a thoroughly prepared program. At precisely the scheduled moment the minister stood up to preach. In his robes he was the epitome of scholarship and grace, and when he spoke it was obvious that he was a man of eloquence and conviction.

Prior to the beginning of the sermon, a passage of Scripture had been read; but the main appeal was to philosophical reasoning and a confrontation of today’s problems along the line of one’s personal responsibility and duty to engage in social engineering. Many authorities were quoted; there were frequent references to great leaders of our day; fragmentary quotations from some of our finest literature revealed the wide reading of the preacher, and many in the congregation were impressed.

At the conclusion of the service there was some subdued chatting among members of the congregation; the ministers greeted them as they went their several ways—some for a time of rest, others to spend the rest of the day in amusements or recreation.

With most of them there was an unappeased sense of spiritual hunger. One could see that the stone of human opinion was hard to digest. Like a serpent, sophisticated denial of divine revelation gnawed at the place where men desired peace and assurance.

Many realized that there was something wrong. Church officers discussed the problem. In the denomination intensive efforts were set on foot for evangelism, missions, and stewardship.

One day a member of the congregation remarked to a friend: “I wish we heard more about what God has to say. Sunday after Sunday, I hear what men have said or are saying. Occasionally the Bible is quoted and then there is light, conviction, and a sense of God’s nearness.”

“Yes,” said the other, “the one thing that will change the situation completely is using the Bible in all of its wonder and power. After all, it is the Sword of the Spirit, the only weapon for an attack on the stronghold of Satan.”

Word got around, the Sword was unsheathed. Sinners were saved, Christians were revived—and the church once more became God’s house.

L. NELSON BELL

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