It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

~John 6:63

Slated for surgery the next morning for a congenital heart defect, he was having a full-blown meltdown. The CCU (coronary care unit) nurses were going crazy, because he kept tearing out his IV lines. He was supposed to be on bed rest, but he kept agitatedly pacing around his room. He was terrified of the potential of dying at age 23.

Having faced cancer for the first time when I was 24 years old, I had some idea how he felt. But not really. My first cancer was one of the few times that I actually experienced the peace that passes misunderstanding. I was so thankful for the faith and precious friends I had found at Pacific Union College. Although I was very sad, I felt close to God and ready to sleep in Jesus if that was what my future held.

When I faced cancer the second time as a mother with young children, I was consumed with anger, depression, and fear. We walk through grief in different ways at different times. Through both experiences, I learned to more clearly understand and empathize with my patients.

My CCU patient eventually decided to sign out of the hospital against medical advice, forget about having heart surgery, and drive to the Grand Canyon, expecting to die… within hours to days, as predicted by his cardiology team. I was just an intern, but he let me pray with him. He then promised to wait until I ran home to get him a present. I came back with a tape recorder, several praise tapes, and the book, Step to Christ.

He went ahead with his plan to leave, and I moved on to my next rotation. Later, our paths crossed again in the Loma Linda University Medical Center lobby. “Dr. Zimmerman, I had my surgery,” he told me. “Thank you. I listened to those praise tapes while I was driving to the Grand Canyon. Then I read Steps to Christ, sitting there at the edge of the Grand Canyon, waiting to die. I decided that God didn’t want me to die. I drove all the way back to Loma Linda, had my surgery, and here I am. He’s given me a new life.”

Is there anything more beautiful than seeing someone come alive in Christ? As physicians, we get to save people’s physical bodies. What an honor it is when we have the chance to share our faith and see what happens when someone becomes filled with His spirit!

-Pearl Zimmerman, LLUSM class of 1994, earned her MPH from LLUSPH in 1984. From 1997 to 2001, she was an assistant clinical professor in LLUSM department of preventive medicine and LLUSPH department of promotion and education.