The stories below were included in our first devotional book, Morning Rounds.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5, KJV
I had to smile when I walked into the room.
Not because a large man with a ponytail and wearing dark leather pants was pacing the room. Not because he had a leather belt with a buckle identifying him as a member of a motorcycle group. Not because he was wearing a sleeveless, tight undershirt and had tattoos covering his muscle-filled biceps.
No, I smiled because sitting next to him on the bed was a 6-year-old boy dressed just like him.
The boy’s undershirt didn’t fit so well. His little thin arms poked out like a stick-man drawing. But he had the requisite ponytail and leather pants. His undershirt was blood-stained from a forehead wound. A quick evaluation of the wound verified that he needed stitches. “This is something we can fix. I expect things to heal up just fine,” I said, trying to put them at ease. They both looked at me, wanting to trust that I could make things okay.
I described how I would wash out the wound, make it numb, and then work on the sutures. The little boy looked worried, and, despite my verbal assurances, I wasn’t sure he would be able to hold still for the procedure. I explained that a nurse might be needed to help him cooperate.
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll hold him,” the man said. Skeptical, I set up the tray of supplies. I made sure a nurse was close by.
As I started to wash out the wound, the boy whimpered. I braced myself for a difficult job. The motorcycle man leaned across the boy’s chest. He offered soothing words: “It’s okay; she knows what she’s doing. You’ll be fine.” I had to adjust the drape as the man’s ponytail was close to my sterile field.
I decided that I wouldn’t call the nurse. It soon became clear that his holding of the boy was more for comfort than restraint. Amazed at the tenderness, I kept working. The boy’s fingers grabbed tightly to the muscle-filled arm, making tiny red dents among the tattoos.
I finished the job. The little boy reached up and hugged the motorcycle man. They both had tears in their eyes. Touched, I said, “You are really good with your son.”
“Oh, he’s not my son,” he corrected. “He is just a kid from the neighborhood we took in. His momma is high on cocaine most of the time when she’s not turning tricks to buy more. We never saw his old man. My wife and I just kinda look out for him.”
I was quiet a minute, then I realized that it was my turn to talk. “That is wonderful,” I said. “What a difference you are making!”
He looked at me with unexpected shyness and said, “Oh, this is nothing. It’s not like I am saving the world or something like you, Doc.”
“Oh, but you are,” I said.
Kathleen Clem, LLUSM class of 1989, is associate professor in and chair of LLUSM department of emergency medicine. She is also the first woman to chair a department at LLUSM.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4, NIV
I was a medical student on a clinical rotation in orthopaedic surgery when I met James Shook, LLUSM class of 1977-A. Others had warned me that he worked long hours as a pediatric and spine specialist, and that he would expect extra effort from each of us. He pushed us to take a thorough history and to really get to know our patients and their families. I was struck by how he greeted by name family members of patients, years after they had been in his office. And he always remembered some detail of their lives that made them laugh or smile.
His practice had many challenging patients, especially those with severe neuromuscular disorders that other physicians seemed to be too busy for (which was ironic, since nobody was busier than Dr. Shook). His love of these deformed children was undeniable; with a grin he would tell us that they were “his people.”
Late one hectic office day, a well-dressed couple brought in their wheelchair-bound child, with disabling cerebral palsy. He had severe mental retardation and could not speak or even communicate from his drooling, deformed body. The visibly frustrated mother finally broke down; and through her tears she asked Dr. Shook what use all her effort was in taking care of this barely conscious boy who could not appreciate the huge sacrifice.
The situation was clearly impacting this family in an overwhelming way. Dr. Shook touched her shoulder, and, with his reassuring smile, told her that her son would someday thank her in eternity. He would one day hold her and say, “Thanks, Mom, for taking care of me all those years when I couldn’t do it myself.”
When the family had gone, Dr. Shook told me that this was a wealthy, driven couple that had focused entirely on their own status and achievement before this child forever altered their lives. They were now forced to constantly focus on someone other than themselves. He said that they didn’t realize it yet, but someday, in eternity, they would thank their boy for their own salvation.
My journey to becoming an orthopaedic spine surgeon was greatly influenced by that one day with Jim Shook.
Gerald Alexander, LLUSM class of 1993, is an orthopaedic surgeon in Fullerton, California.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14, NIV
It was time for morning rounds on the pediatrics ward at Riverside General Hospital in Riverside, California. I was a third-year medical student, very eager to impress others with my ability to confi dently present the history and physical exam of a 2-year-old boy our team had admitted overnight for dehydration and gastroenteritis. I was told our new attending physician was John Mace, LLUSM class of 1964, the chair of the pediatrics department; so I wanted to do an especially good job in my presentation.
I had memorized the entire script and was ready to quickly recite it: the history of the present illness, the birth history, the milestones, the immunizations, the family history, the vital signs, the weight loss both in grams and as a percentage drop from the previous visit in the clinic, the key findings on the physical exam, the random chemistry profile from the night before, the morning electrolytes, the differential diagnosis, the assessment, the plan, the urine output in ml/kg/hour overnight, and on and on.
Our group of white-coats went from room to room, seeing each patient, finally arriving at my small patient’s room. It was a big group: the attending, the senior resident, the two interns, the four medical students, the charge nurse, and the social worker. We walked in and all surrounded the tall bed with the vertical metal bars. To me, it looked like a small portable jail cell.
As we approached, the little boy grabbed the bars and stood up; he looked around and promptly started to cry. He was obviously scared and was probably wondering what was going to happen next. Not quite knowing what to do, I launched into my prepared presentation. I was barely into my first sentence (“This 2-year-old Caucasian male child...”) when Dr. Mace looked at me and said, “Please stop.” He then opened the tall bed rail guards, took the little boy in his arms, smiled, and told him, “You’ll be all right.” He then turned to me and said, “Now, doctor, tell me why this little guy is here.”
Countless morning clinical rounds have come and gone since that day, all filled with new patients, the discussion of various clinical details, the possible etiologies, the relative value of different decisions. I have forgotten much, if not all, of the rounding minutiae. But I will never forget the impact that morning had on my decision to become a pediatrician, who would treat patients, not diseases.
Ricardo Peverini, LLUSM class of 1984, is a specialist in neonatal and perinatal medicine and is associate professor in LLUSM department of pediatrics. He is associate dean for clinical faculty for LLUSM.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matthew 27:46, KJV; Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46, KJV; It is finished. John 19:30, KJV
As we removed the covering to begin learning, something seemed strange. We were in anatomy lab, and something made me uncomfortable. While attempting to understand this feeling, someone covered the face of the silent being on the
table—the face of one who would show us so much. For some mystical reason, that action made everything okay. But why?
Why did a piece of cloth make a difference? Was I afraid to be reminded that this “study” is a human? Was I afraid to realize that this face represents a heart that loved, and hurt? Was I afraid to see, in those eyes, those who have gone before, or would I even see myself? Death will be as much a part of my existence as was my birth, but I don’t like being reminded. I have experienced sufficient loss to know it’s hard. When considering my death, I fear for those who will love me on that day. I fear it will lack meaning.
Back in anatomy lab again, I was led to look at the face once more. As fear conjured up an uneasy feeling, God whispered, “I can use death as much as I can use life.” Suddenly, before me were beings who, in death, will touch as many people—if not more—as they did in life, because through their gift they have become teachers. They are part of the knowledge that will make me a healer. Th us, the number of lives that they can touch through their students is almost limitless.
Yes, death can be used just as much as life. Still, it’s difficult to entirely grasp this. This silent teacher before me never knew his students. He couldn’t see the fruition of his gift, yet he made that sacrifice. In some beautiful way, his gift carries on the significance of his life. But did he understand that there was meaning beyond a darkness he couldn’t see past?
Jesus cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the face of death, His humanity feared the unknown. Yet He somehow knew that His death would reverberate throughout history. So He entered separation from His Father with His humanity, unable to see the other side. And salvation becomes ours, because His unselfish choice made His death as
great a part of His existence as did His life. Later in lab for my final assignment, I realize I’m being taught more than I thought—more than muscles, nerves, and vessels, more than the fact that God uses death. I perceive, perhaps most significantly, a glimpse into the heart of God in Christ. How? Because before me is an example of one who entered the unknown unselfishly, hopeful of a significance he would someday see. Thus, if we listen to their silence, we will hear the calling to use our knowledge to touch lives, to live fearlessly and selflessly through gain or loss.
Truly, the significance of the lives of these silent teachers didn’t end with their final breath. And as hard as it may be for my mind to comprehend, this much is evident: God can use death as beautifully as He can use life.
Nathan Dario Brinckhaus, LLUSM class of 2011—for which he is sophomore class secretary/treasurer—was reared in Humboldt County in northern California. April 22 was the date of the anatomy memorial service in 2008.
I will rejoice because of the Lord; I will be happy because of the God who delivers me. The sovereign Lord is my source of strength. He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain. Habakkuk 3:18-19, NET
I never thought I would become a doctor’s wife. But in the two years I’ve been the wife of a man studying to be a doctor, I’ve had the chance to examine what this role means now and what it could mean for a lifetime. Yes, being married to a medical student is
hard. Yes, he keeps long hours studying. And yes, it’s hard when he’s on-call and he doesn’t have cell phone service in the hospital.
But I remind myself that all marriages have their challenges; many occupations require long hours (i.e., business owners, lawyers, and accountants in April). Throughout history, people have survived without cell phones.
During our relatively short married life, I have found ways to endure the times he’s gone. The most important thing I can do for both of us is to pray. Prayer is a lifeline of comfort and strength, even when the cell phone doesn’t work. I can pray for him no
matter where he is, what he’s doing, or who he’s helping.
Even though I cannot be there to encourage him throughout the day, our God is there by his side. And our God is with me, too, as I drive to work, interact with people, and come back home to a happy dog and a pile of dirty dishes. Our relationship gets its
strength from each of us individually looking up to our Creator and then looking to each other. I don’t know how we would survive without prayer sustaining us daily.
As the wife of a future doctor, I see my growing responsibility to my community. My involvement in various organizations can be a vehicle for giving back to the world by aiding needy families, helping with projects at LLUCH, tutoring students, or bringing food to lonely elderly people in town. It doesn’t take much time to make a difference, in someone else’s life as well as my own.
When I first moved to Loma Linda, it was hard to find a job and make new friends. It took some time to establish a social network; but now I have my own friend niche, and I reach out to others who are new to the area and likely lonely. I often call a friend with
whom I can exercise, I’ve joined a Bible study, and I frequently have a girls’ night out or even a girls’ weekend. All of these options are better than sitting on a couch alone, waiting for my husband to come home.
Hands down, one of the most important things I’ve learned is to be there for my husband when he has time to watch a movie or when he wants to get some ice cream. I will always have more free time than he will; so when he is free, I try to be open as well.
Sometimes mundane activities can waste the precious time we have together. I try to prioritize my day, clearing my schedule as best I can when my man wants to play tennis or take the dog to the park. Adults need laughter as much as kids do. Besides, making fun memories is much better than doing the dishes any day!
Louisa M. Kellar is the wife of Jesse Kellar, LLUSM class of 2010. Both are from the state of Washington and graduated from Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington. She is currently vice president of the Junior Medical Auxiliary of the LLUSM Alumni Association. May 5 is his birthday.
Jesus wept. John 11:35, KJV
I was now, finally, an intern. It was my first month on the wards at the fabled Loma Linda University Medical Center. Earlier, as a medical student, walking up from
the basic science campus, I often gazed at the top of the medical center’s parapets, imagining a castle, feeling as if I needed to assail it to be included. And now, here I was, finally on the inside. I was now a defender of that castle, repelling the enemies: disease, pain, suffering, and death.
The problem was I knew I wasn’t that much different from a few weeks prior. Signing the patients’ charts before had required the co-signature of an MD. Now, I was the co-signer. Yet, I did not feel any different than I had as a medical student, as far as my doctoring capabilities were concerned. I was completely overwhelmed those first few
weeks by my responsibilities; and this was just the general medicine service, rather than a subspecialty service!
One of my first memorable patients was a male in his 70s who had been perfectly healthy all his life and was admitted for persistent abdominal pain. The computed tomography (CT) report showed a pancreatic mass, most certainly a malignant cancer. I was his doctor. I was the one who had to inform him and his wife of the diagnosis and his probable impending demise.
My feelings of inadequacy intruded into my awareness again, though I did not inform others of my plight. I had never had to tell someone they had cancer. I wasn’t sure I had
seen appropriate methods modeled for me. I had no idea how to engage in a conversation about this, and I did not recall any lectures on this topic.
I blundered my way through the interaction—essentially blurting out his diagnosis and prognosis without finesse, felt emotionally overwrought as a result, and moments later found myself in the ward’s restroom, crying. After a few minutes, I was struck by the thought that I was at a crossroads in my emotional life. This was a very painful experience, which I did not like; and I knew that I did not have to feel this way. I knew I could avoid these feelings either through suppression, gallows humor, distraction, alcohol, or Valium.
I knew it was possible to turn off these feelings; but then I realized that if I did, I might then lose the capacity to re-access my emotions when I needed to in other relationships. Which direction to take was now my choice. I decided to stay present with my feelings, regardless of the accompanying discomfort. Rather than fearing or avoiding the discomfort of my feelings, I remained on the “learning curve,” which, over time, taught me that my discomfort was a guide to my patient’s needs.
All of us in the medical profession have developed our intellect, and some of us have accomplished this at the expense of our emotional self. Every good trait unbalanced by other good traits becomes a liability. Professional development is a daily and lifelong process. May my goal be to stay open to all that I am, no matter the discomfort it might bring, so that my impact on others has a greater beneficial range.
Mickey Ask, LLUSM class of 1979-A, is assistant professor in LLUSM departments of medicine and of preventive medicine. He is an addictionologist.