Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
(Matthew 5:3-5, NKJV)
I could cut the tension in the air with a #11 Bard blade as we entered Mary’s room that day. With my team of medical students and intensive care medicine residents, i was about to reveal Mary’s prognosis to her family. She had been working in her garden and cooking for her family a couple of weeks ago. And now, she was in a coma on a mechanical ventilator following a massive stroke.
Despite years of critical care specialization, one is never entirely ready for this type of discussion. My medical residents and students have heard me give this “talk” before. It would take a few minutes to deliver the message, and we would be on our way to the next patient. I began in my usual confident tone of voice. I discussed the pathophysiology of the stroke, the scientific basis for the artificial support to maintain her physiologic functions, and finally, her prognosis: poor, very poor.
All eyes were focused in my direction. There was silence. Nothing but the occasional whimpering and the rustling of bodies here and there could be felt. By the family’s reaction, I surmised that most of them already suspected this to be Mary’s outcome. They were subdued, but all eyes were still on me. I was confused. I thought my part was done, but they appeared to be begging for more. Mary was dying from an irreversible condition that neither the neurosurgeon nor I could do anything about, and that was that… but I discovered my job was not yet complete.
Mary, the family’s matriarch, was dying, and they were at a loss. The family was in need of emotional and spiritual care, and I was missing the cue. Many of them had not been seen or heard from for many years. I sensed that many of them didn’t like each other very much. Mary would have been happy and proud of their presence. By her own example, she worked hard to raise a family that loved God with all their heart, and it was finally paying off.
In that crucial moment, I looked at each of them and recognized my task. I realized that Mary was no longer my focus. Mary would pass away, and I could not change that; and so I began to remind the family of God’s everlasting love and that Mary’s broken physical being was not how we should remember her. Instead, we should remember the loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister, niece, cousin, and wonderful friend; and recall all the lives she had touched.
I reached out to hold the hands of the two people standing closest to me, and I prayed:” Oh, God, send Your angel to guide and comfort this family today. Help us remember Your profound and unconditional love for each one of us. Keep Mary in your care until Your Second Coming, and, please, may Your will be done. Amen.”
There was a deep sigh in the room. Instead of the tension and arguments among the members that began the day, all of them started to embrace one another with a sense of deep love that no words can describe. In that instant, I realized that my job at Loma Linda University Medical Center was not only that of an intensivist. I could and should be a “spiritual consultant” as well. As I watched the transformation in that family, I was humbled and at the same time elated by what God helped me do for Mary’s family that day.
– Takkin Lo, LLUSM class of 1986