The previous chapters outlined some of the "hardware" used at Loma Linda University Medical Center. While it is spectacular to watch flashing lights, scopes, and computer terminals as they contribute to quality patient care, a clearer revelation of God's love may be seen by watching Him work through the hands and hearts of those who seek to unite their healing ministry with His.
To reveal the love of the Great Physician, those who cooperate with Him must treat the whole person, ministering not only to the physical needs but also--with a careful sensitivity to the feelings of each patient and his or her relatives--to the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Such love cannot be dictated by a hospital administrative policy, or by the University's philosophy of treating "the whole person." Such love must be an individual concern of each one who cares for the patient. It is not uncommon for nurses to ask patients if they would like to have a good-night prayer. Students and personnel often develop close, long-lasting friendships with those they have treated.
In recent years the medical profession and other university medical centers have become more concerned about the necessity of ministry not only to the physical but also to the emotional and spiritual needs of patients. The profound effect that a spiritual atmosphere of love, compassion, faith, and hope can have on a patient's physical recovery is coming to be understood more fully. Patients appreciate such concern for their well-being, as is evidenced by excerpts from letters received by the Medical Center:
"The Christian attitudes and atmosphere are very precious and surely must contribute to the splendid overall quality of the hospital."
"Seems as if everyone really cares about you and your health as well as your future health."
"The extra comfort of all who prayed for me made me feel like someone special. God bless you all. The chaplain was a very special comfort."
In one instance, the words of appreciation came over a Southern California radio station in an editorial commentary by the station president. He said, "I recently had reason to be at the Loma Linda University Medical Center. Sunshine and I had a baby girl born there. There were some initial complications, but everything is fine now--thanks to some fantastic people at the hospital, in the neonatal intensive care unit. From a purely technical standpoint it is like something out of a science fiction movie. The equipment is fantastic--but money can buy any kind of equipment. What makes this unit and this incredible hospital stand out is the people. They are the kindest, gentlest, most courteous group of dedicated medical professionals I have ever run across. Everyone--from the gentleman who greets you at the front door to the top doctors and administrators in the hospital--exudes friendship and genuine concern for patients and relatives and friends there to visit. The doctors are humble, dedicated medical men. We in the Inland Empire should feel secure and proud that we are fortunate enough to have such an outstanding medical facility with such an outstanding staff."1
Brownie Finds a New Friend
To Brownie, an old vaudeville song-and-dance man, God was only a faraway thought. But when he became seriously ill and was hospitalized at the Medical Center, he enjoyed the morning singing, and the evening prayers struck a responsive chord in his heart. Brownie was a sweet, sensitive person. He was greatly loved by his nurses. One day he said to one of them, "Sally, I don't know how to pray."
She replied, "I just talk to God as I would to a friend. I tell Him my joys and sorrows and needs, and then I thank Him for my blessings. You can too."
Several weeks later Brownie said, smiling, "Sally, I've learned to pray and my heart is lighter." Then one day the nurses heard Brownie pray a most beautiful prayer for one of his hospital roommates who was about to undergo surgery. The nurses' hearts were touched and full of happiness, knowing that the circle of blessing would continue to widen.
An Unexpected Visit
Hospitalized for the first time, one gentleman, though not very sick, was convinced that he was, and he acted as though he were a terminal case. A difficult patient, he continually complained and turned on his call light. Nevertheless, his nurses were kind, giving him the same loving care they gave all their patients. To their surprise, one day, months after his release, he returned. They greeted him warmly. At first he did not answer. Then he spoke with difficulty, his eyes full of tears: "I just had to come back and tell you what you all have meant to me. You have changed my whole life. I didn't know what compassion was until I came to this hospital. And since I left here, I found the Lord and dedicated my life to Him."
Paid in Full
One evening Theda Mohr, L.V.N., was assigned to care for a woman recovering from total-knee-replacement surgery. The patient suffered from severe arthritis in her hands, feet, and large joints. Turning and positioning her resulted in agony, even with pain medication. Mrs. Mohr made a special effort to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
"When I had taken care of 'Mrs. Lamont' for a few days," said Mrs. Mohr, "I became more and more aware of a vague familiarity about her, even though her name was new to me. I searched my memory for some clue to her identity, some place where I could fit her into the past." Even checking Mrs. Lamont's medical records for an address (Twentynine Palms, California) did not help. Mrs. Mohr knew no one from that area.
The patient's recovery was slow, and Mrs. Mohr came to know her rather well. One day she said to Mrs. Mohr, "You've been so good to me. You hardly hurt me at all. You know, years ago I used to be a nurse, too. I just wish I could take care of you sometime, the way you have cared for me."
Mrs. Mohr smiled but thought to herself that, considering the patient's severe arthritis, Mrs. Lamont would likely never be able to serve as a nurse again. She simply replied, "Well, you're just reaping some of the good care you gave when you were nursing others. Now it's your turn to be cared for in your time of need."
One day as the two women talked, they discovered that they both had lived in Oregon at the same time. Mrs. Mohr had lived in Eugene; Mrs. Lamont had worked as an L.P.N. at the Portland Sanitarium. "What years did you live and work in Portland?" asked Mrs. Mohr. The patient's answer took Mrs. Mohr back some 30 years. Then she recognized Mrs. Lamont.
The two women had been in an almost identical setting 30 years before--only the roles had been reversed. Mrs. Mohr, ill with acute thyroiditis, had been hospitalized at the Portland Sanitarium (now Portland Adventist Medical Center). And Mrs. Lamont had been her night nurse, a tall, slim, young widow, quietly changing hot packs to the neck throughout the night, urging her patient to take fluids and bringing the R.N. with medication when the pain became unbearable. And Mrs. Mohr recognized in her friend the same gentle, sensitive manner that was now as familiar as her face. Mrs. Lamont's desire to repay Mrs. Mohr's kindness had already been paid in full.
Mary Van Dyke
It's October 15, 1994. She is crying tears of joy as she is being swept off her feet by Brian Robertson, #55 on Riverside (California) Christian School's football team. You see, Mary Van Dyke has just been crowned homecoming queen.
Born July 12, 1977, with 23 physical and neurological anomalies, Mary was not supposed to survive infancy. Then, it was thought she would never be able to do more than lift her head. Mary was born with the Mary Van Dyke syndrome, a condition so rare that her doctors at Loma Linda University Medical Center later named it after her. But Mary was born a fighter. With encouragement from her big sister, Alice, and her parents, Pete and Pat Van Dyke, Mary learned to crawl and climb stairs and eventually to walk with the help of a tiny aluminum walker.
When Mary was just 3, her mother made a T-shirt with a message emblazoned over the chest, "REBUILT BY THE LORD AND LLUMC." When she was 8, her medical records weighed more than she did. Mary has had heart surgery to repair a hole in her heart. She has undergone hip construction, hand surgeries, and ear surgeries. She has undergone facial reconstruction, including cleft palate repair, extensive dental surgery, and orthodontia.
Just before her 31st operation, and as the crowd cheered, 17-year-old Mary Van Dyke walked onto the field to be named homecoming queen of Riverside Christian School. The determined teenager has earned an "A" average and the admiration of an entire school. Many fought to maintain their composure as an astonished Mary was crowned and handed a bouquet of red roses. That's when her escort, Brian, scooped her into his arms and carried her off the field as her family and the whole school watched.
"After everything she's gone through," said school administrator, Vance Nichols, "I just can't stop crying." In a feature published the next day in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Nichols said, "Our school is a better place because of her. Our kids are better kids because of her. My faith is a stronger one because of her."
According to her mother, Mary faces a lifetime of periodic surgery for various problems. For strength, Mary will continue to rely on her faith in God. Mary Van Dyke is a royal inspiration.
A Transcontinental Mercy Flight
Patients are sometimes unaware of the concern expressed for them behind the scenes. One afternoon three-year-old Raymond complained to his mother that he did not feel well. By 10:00 that night he was breathing with difficulty and had a temperature of 102 degrees. His parents decided to take him to a doctor. On the way to a local community hospital, Raymond's temperature jumped to 104 degrees and he began wheezing loudly. At the hospital Raymond's physicians, thinking at first that he had a severe case of croup, put him inside an oxygen tent. But at 2:00 a.m. Raymond stopped breathing. The physician on call performed an emergency tracheotomy and decided to transfer him to Loma Linda University Medical Center. There Raymond's illness was diagnosed as severe viral pneumonia. To aid his breathing, medical personnel connected him to a respirator and gave him the maximum safe amount of medication.
During the next week Raymond's condition worsened. His physicians tried one kind of respirator after another until Raymond was using the most sophisticated respirator locally available. His physicians knew of only one other respirator that might work, a newly imported Danish model available only from a research laboratory in Rockville, Maryland. They would have to get it fast. Raymond's life depended on it.
They phoned the office of Congressman Jerry L. Pettis and asked for United States Air Force assistance. Within minutes a C-141 "Starlifter" was diverted from a training mission in South Carolina to pick up the respirator at Andrews Air Force Base near Rockville. Two hours later it was on a transcontinental mercy flight, the only cargo aboard a jet transport capable of hauling 64,000 pounds of freight. The big four-engine jet touched down for only 15 minutes and then, with 84,000 pounds of thrust, it thundered back into the sky in a race against time, heading at almost 600 miles per hour toward Southern California. Just five hours later, the respirator was helping Raymond breathe. It was to be his life support for the next month and a half. During that six weeks his heart stopped beating twice. His lungs collapsed several times. He was given massive doses of medication and special nursing care 24 hours a day.
Although he showed signs of recovery, Raymond was unable to cope with the intense pain and he regressed psychologically. He would not walk or talk. A child psychiatrist suggested to his mother that she take care of him as though he were an infant and gradually help him learn how to be a three-year-old again. He responded encouragingly and was dismissed from the Medical Center three weeks later.
It was a rewarding drama, satisfying because of the patient's recovery. Yet perhaps more memorable and impressive was the unlimited tender concern, the professional skills, the time and love expended on behalf of a little boy by a Congressman and his staff, the United States Air Force, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, technologists, aides, and other employees throughout the Medical Center who kept asking, "How's little Raymond doing today?"
On one of Raymond's worst nights, one such employee, a housekeeper, tiptoed into Raymond's darkened room and stood at the foot of his bed, unaware that the boy's mother was sitting nearby. He gazed at the unconscious child for about five minutes and said softly, "Kid, if I only could, I'd give you my lung." But he had only one lung himself.
Oscar's Will To Live
On April 16, 1973, a Mexican-American mother brought her dying son to Loma Linda University Medical Center. Oscar, though six years old, weighed only 24 pounds. He was suffering from kidney failure, heart failure, and extreme anemia. His big dark-brown eyes were full of fear. Within minutes Dr. Ralph Harris, the Medical Center's pediatric kidney specialist, was organizing a medical team for Oscar. He needed a blood transfusion to counteract the anemia, medicines to slow down and stabilize his heart, and a peritoneal dialysis to clean his blood (a function normally performed by the kidneys). Within 10 hours, Oscar was pulled back from the brink of death. After a two-week hospitalization, Oscar went to his home in Indio, California, 70 miles away.
Oscar had been born with undersized kidneys. His condition had been treated by medication, diet, and fluid restriction. But only six months after he left the Medical Center his kidneys stopped functioning. Since they no longer filtered the impurities from his blood he was forced to go on an artificial kidney machine. He was the youngest patient ever to undergo routine hemodialysis at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
For the next several months his mother was unable to meet his appointments. Twice he was rushed to Loma Linda in a near coma. When it became necessary for Oscar to be on the kidney machine three times a week, four to six hours at a time, Dr. Harris suggested that Oscar stay in a foster home near the Medical Center. His mother refused.
Several weeks later she gave in. The 70-mile distance was too far. The family car needed repairs constantly. There were five other children at home, and she could not afford a baby-sitter. With the agony known only to a mother who has given up a cherished child, Oscar's mother permitted him to become a ward of the court so that he might receive the medical care needed to keep him alive.
Oscar's nurses loved him in a special way and often came back to see him on their days off. But one nurse--Bonnie Porter--came back more often and stayed with him longer. She asked if she could take full responsibility for Oscar. Dr. Harris at first did not believe she was serious. She was a single woman. But he recognized the advantages of having an alert pediatric nurse caring for Oscar and gave his approval.
After Bonnie was accepted as a foster parent by the state social service agency, she explained to Oscar that he needed to live near the hospital and asked if he would like to live with her. He understood and accepted her idea. Bonnie acquired some needles and a doll to help Oscar adjust to the treatments. In the evenings he would push the needles into the doll's leg and explain, "It just hurts for a little while and it'll make you feel better." Within a few weeks he could stand the injections without crying. While the large needles were being inserted, he would grip Bonnie's hand and grit his teeth. Afterward, he would heave a sigh of relief.
When Oscar turned seven, he was no larger than an average three-year-old. Because of his kidney problem, he weighed only 32 pounds, and on his weak, wobbly legs he stood only three feet tall. But he had persistence, a friendly giggle, and an impish nature. Fearless, he would ask a stranger to bounce an enormous rubber ball to him across the hallway of the pediatrics unit. One day he bounced the ball into a doctor, caught the rebound, and lobbed the next shot into a patient walking by.
Almost everyone in the Medical Center knew Oscar. Members of the staff went out of their way to say hello to him. "Oscar's a great little guy," said Dr. Harris. "He's the hospital mascot and he's done a lot for us." Oscar would add his comments to medical discussions, give a hand in pushing a crib from one room to another, and try to be helpful whenever he saw an opportunity.
Oscar seemed to accept his condition. He was even cheerful about his dialysis treatments. During the procedure Oscar would wave goodbye to his blood as it flowed through the clear plastic tubes toward the kidney machine. When he demanded that bystanders wish his blood well, no one could refuse. In the evening he would play his favorite game, "pretend dialysis." His rabbit doll would be the patient and he would be the doctor, carefully adjusting the real needles and syringes and tubes.
Oscar's cheerfulness and love of life infected everyone who met him. He visited every new patient on the children's unit and wanted each one to be his friend. When a six-year-old girl was admitted with problems similar to his, he assured her that he was praying for her. "Be brave," he said. "Those needles hurt, but I know that you will be brave." He brought her flowers, shared his lunches, and entertained her by plucking randomly on his toy guitar, singing as he played.
Dr. Dale Rowland, then a pediatric resident, and Dr. Harris sometimes invited Oscar to accompany them on rounds as they visited other patients. Whenever, a child was about to have blood drawn for the first time, Oscar would hold the child's hand and say, "You won't need to cry. I have this done to me all the time. It just hurts for a minute."
A kidney transplant was Oscar's only hope for a normal life. He and Bonnie talked about it often. Bonnie asked Dr. Harris about donating one of her kidneys for a transplant. But the idea was not practical. Unless the tissue matched perfectly, the organ would be rejected.
Twice, when acceptable organs were available, Oscar had kidney and urinary tract infections. His condition made surgery risky no matter what course the physicians took. Finally, because his kidneys threatened his life and had twice prevented transplants, the decision was made to remove them at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. A week after returning home from surgery, Oscar became listless and began breathing with difficulty. Fearing heart failure, Bonnie took him to the Medical Center even though he protested that he was "not that sick." Medicine and dialysis seemed to correct his problems, and by 10:30 p.m. he was sleeping comfortably. But two hours later, early Tuesday morning, Oscar went into cardiac arrest. The medical team succeeded in shocking his heart into a steady, normal beat, a procedure that often leads to recovery. But the valiant little Oscar was unconscious.
During the next few hours his heart stopped beating and was restarted a dozen times. A respirator assisted his breathing. A dialysis machine cleansed his blood and intravenous solutions enriched it. Nurses and friends lingered outside his room hoping to be needed. Among those standing by, none had his brown skin or black hair. But one young woman's tears were nearer the surface. Oscar was not her child, but Bonnie was obviously "his mother." The doctors shared anxious glances with her.
The effort to revive Oscar continued for three days. Bonnie tried to communicate: "Oscar, this is Mommy. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me." No response. She played his favorite record over and over again in hopes that he would give some sign that he heard her. But he did not. Although his heart continued to beat, on Thursday afternoon, Oscar's electroencephalogram went flat. His brain was dead. At Bonnie's request Oscar was laid in her arms. She gently rocked him to sleep for the last time, weeping softly as dozens of Oscar's hospital friends silently bade him good-bye.
"Go to sleep, baby, go to sleep," Bonnie whispered. She cradled him in her arms for three hours before he took his last breath at 4:24 that Thursday afternoon. Neither the 70 dialysis treatments he endured, nor the pain, nothing but death itself had succeeded in stifling his buoyant charm.
According to Dr. Harris, "What we learned [Oscar had been the most 'conferenced' child at the Medical Center] didn't enable us to save Oscar's life, but it will help others. We learned a lot about life from Oscar, too. We learned about love and courage and the will to live."2
Writing about the experience later, Chaplain M. Jerry Davis, Rel.D., said, "The plant was broken before the bud had bloomed. The problem of unfulfilled potential arouses in the heart the simple, pointed question, 'Why?' The Scriptural answer is that sorrow, suffering, sadness, and death have no place in God's plan. They are the reason for His plan...."3