And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.~Luke 17:15-19
The elevator door slide open onto the 23rd floor of the medical center. The hallway is long and sharply rectangular. It is late, probably past 10p.m., but there is a constant background noise. Pauses in time are filled with distant beeps, indistinct voices, shuffling of feet and bedding, fingers tapping lightly on keyboards, and the clanking of doors opening and closing. These are all familiar sounds in a hospital ward. The noise is familiar and in a way comforting.
This night, however, is somehow different; the voices are audible, but the speech is unintelligible. To my Western ear, the cadence and subtle intonation shifts of Mandarin transport no meaning to my mind. “This way please, follow me,” brings me back into focus. It is Friday night and our kind Chinese colleagues lead us through the hallways of Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in Hangzhou, China.
The CT scan is ominous, as the tumor extends to the skull base. The disease appears to be resectable, but should we attempt such a complicated surgery here in a foreign hospital? The reasons not to operate are myriad: the microscope does not release correctly, the plating system is severely lacking, and the cutting drill bit is the wrong size.
But the most concerning issue is that the staff has never done this particular procedure. It seems as if there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. And then we are reminded, “If you don’t do the surgery, she probably won’t get treated.”
The group takes a turn into a dimly lit room. At the far end of the room our patient is resting comfortably; her head is wrapped in clean, white gauze that reveals a small amount of crusted blood that has soaked its way through. She is awake, surrounded by a small group of family members; and from a bedside chair, her husband springs to his feet.
Gratitude spills out of this man; it is spontaneous and uncontainable. His tiny frame dips his head repeatedly in that universal expression of thankfulness. There is no need for translation; it is unspoken gratitude that flows from the man’s very soul. Tears spill out onto deeply furrowed skin as thick calloused hands reach out to grasp and hold our hands individually. He moves from one person to the next, then back down the line; the tears continue to course down his cheeks.
No words are spoken, no dialogue exchanged; and yet, each one of us present is deeply blessed by his expression of gratitude. As I step back into the hallway, I am humbled with the realization that the God of the universe-who holds the power to create life itself, who at the blink of an eye can heal the most broken of bodies-allows us to participate in the smallest of ways with the healing process.
Whether physicians or not, we are all given the opportunity to witness the miraculous, to see glimpses of His mighty power, and to experience His underserved grace. Will I learn to respond with unfiltered, unsuppressed, and heartfelt gratitude?
-Chuck Steward, IV, LLUSM class of 2000, is an assistant professor in LLUSM department of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery.