Behind The Curtain: Letting Others In

In our performance-obsessed culture, there’s a lot of pressure to act like we have it all together.  As Christians, we say our value comes from what Jesus did, but sometimes we tend to show people only what we want them to see (i.e., our ‘good side’).  When we fail to let people in our shortcomings and weaknesses, we make it hard for people to get close to us and see God’s work in our lives.

This dynamic certainly plays itself out in today’s healthcare field.  Trainees are rightly encouraged to become competent, but wrongly expected to be – or at least present as – infallible.  As they advance in their training, this pressure grows tremendously.

In light of this, I found this reflection (shared with his permission) by fourth-year medical student Jeremy Korteweg incredibly refreshing.  As more of us are willing to ‘go first’ like this and let others in, we can create the kind of culture where gospel transformation can take place.

Update 2/12 – Some have said the link is not working, so I am posting Jeremy’s reflection text below –

Unlike most of my writings, there is no definitive practical application at the end of this piece.  I have spent the past month wondering if I should post these discombobulated sentences.  If you wish not to be tagged in future notes, please inform me via a message.

Journal entry 6/12/2009:  “I want to live for conquering death.”

“The great drama…is not whether you will have a happy life or nice friends or a great marriage.  No, the great drama is whether death will conquer life or life will conquer death.” – Paul Tripp (heard 1/6/2011)

The words below tell in part the regrets imprinted upon me.  They describe moments filled with questions unasked, statements left unsaid, unhelpful comments, and absence.  Often when telling stories, a narrator will embellish the tale by either adding unnecessary words of detail or concealing caveats.  Let me tell you a story in its entirety without embellishment or caveats–one that often brings great joy to the listener but tainted with regret on the part of the narrator.

It’s about Mr. Scott.

“62 year old male, cardiac arrest, ETA 3 minutes, no medics.”

Some of you can picture my eyes light up after hearing that announcement in the ER.  I ran around getting some equipment together as the rest of the ER screeched to a halt and assembled in the resuscitation room.

The chaos was orderly when he arrived.  Tubes and lines were inserted into natural and created orifices of this man’s lifeless body, a myriad of drugs flowed, and I kept his blood circulating with CPR.  The monitors told us we were getting oxygen to his brain but his heart wouldn’t start beating again.

I took a break from CPR after a few minutes.  While one of my colleagues took over, I noticed Mrs. Scott standing outside the room utterly horrified.  We asked her if she wanted to come into the room, see what we were doing, and perhaps say some words to him.  She said ‘yes,’ confidently stepped into the room, whispered a few words into his ear, and stepped out.

A few tense minutes later a pause was called in the CPR and his heart kept beating!  Cheers went up in the room while we celebrated.  The residents fought hard to keep his heart alive before shipping the still unconscious Mr. Scott to the ICU.

During the interim I talked to his wife.  I discovered he was suffering from a terminal disease but she wasn’t ready for him to die.  After all, they were just enroute to the doctor for a routine checkup and he was feeling fine an hour before.  Content that we had successfully “saved” a life, I finished my shift in peace and slept well that night.

Back in the days when I was a tech, I used to show up at the hospital for a scheduled shift only to find out that I was re-routed to a different unit.  The next morning, I arrived for my 7am shift in the ER only to discover that I was assigned to the ICU, not the ER.  Amidst my disappointment, I soon found that Mr. Scott was on my list of assigned patients.

He lay unresponsive, breathing via the ventilator.  His wife arrived early…that was not a good sign.  It was evident in the past 24 hours that he had no detectable brain activity despite the lack of sedatives.  She agreed to disconnect the ventilator that morning and not to intervene if he lacked spontaneous respirations.

“I wasn’t ready for him to die yesterday but I’m ready today.  I’m going to miss him but I know he’s going to be with Jesus.”

It all happened real fast.  They took out the tube and disconnected the ventilator as we watched him.  His breathing was abnormally slow; I looked at the monitor, his heart clocking away at 90 beats a minute.  I put my arm around his wife as I watched the heart rate slowly decrease.

First 70, then 60… 55… 40… 30… 22… 10… 0…..

I don’t really remember what happened next.  I think one of my other patients wasn’t doing so well and I had to help; but I never saw Mrs. Scott again.  On my way to get lunch I heard someone crying alone in the waiting room.  I knew it was Mrs. Scott but I didn’t want to stop…and I don’t know why.

I’ve never told that to anyone before because the story sounds epic and I want to leave you at the scene where two people learn to let go of physical life and ask Jesus to take over.  Instead I’ve stopped telling the story because I have to think about that ending in silence while the recipient says “what a great story.”  Maybe that’s why this document lay in the recesses of my hard drive long before its posting.  I don’t know why.

Some will say ‘it’s still a good story’ and ‘you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself,’ but it’s just a patch on something that perhaps I should never forget.  Maybe it’s to remind me of the times I have walked out of relationships or events because they were too hard to handle.  I wish I could live a life without any regrets but maybe I’ll find out what how much my regrets meant life to others.  And maybe I’ll find out more when I get to see the Scotts again for I believe they have both conquered death with life.

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About Bryan Stoudt

On my personal website (bryanstoudt.com), I help Christians follow Jesus in a noisy, broken world. I also have the privilege of helping Philadelphia's healthcare students and professionals do this as Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). More information at cmdaphiladelphia.org. On a personal note, I'm fortunate to be married to my wonderful wife, Sharon. Together, we have four fantastic children. In my spare time, I enjoy roasting coffee, running, reading and learning foreign languages.
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