Sunday, November 26, 2006


Q: How do you make God laugh?

A: Make plans.

Or, better yet: Try to make Him change His plans.

A young patient recently died on my service due to complications from an operation. The family kept a vigil of prayer 24 hours a day at the bedside during the patient's short and ill-fated stay in the ICU.

What was unique about this family was that they were very loud, physically overbearing, and quite vocal with their prayers. Although the family stayed within the confines of the patient's room, their level of noise often drew curious onlookers to stop in the hallway and peer in to see what the commotion was about.

During the past night, her condition had been rapidly deteriorating. My medical team had been watching her downward trend and braced ourselves for the inevitable moment. As the patient's heart failed early this morning, my team rushed in to perform CPR and attempt to save her life. But we had to fight our way to the patient because the family had literally latched onto her dying body, loudly wailing and asking God to return their loved one back to them.

They also wouldn't leave the cramped room, so my team had to jockey for positions to resuscitate her. I had to get another nurse to help me clear the room of family members so that we could do our job. And during this whole time, the family were stomping, clapping, and praying so loudly that I couldn't communicate what I needed with my team and had to repeat myself several times during the code.

In the end, despite our efforts and the family's praying for her life, she died.

I've unfortunately witnessed many families lose their loved ones to disease and illness during the course of my medical career. There are a multitude of reactions by the family as there are a multitude reasons for their loved one's death. The overbearing anguish of a family member's death leaves people stunned, angry, remorseful, hostile, sullen, abandoned...

Some lash out. Some withdraw. But the majority pray. A lot.

I did too, when I was losing my mother to cancer.
And I also did a lot of pleading and begging with God to spare her life. To bring her back. To miraculously get rid of her disease so that she can return to us. So that my family could go back to life as we used to know it.

But I couldn't get God to change his mind. It was my mother's time, and when the time came, He took her.

What I've realized over the years is that what I should have been doing was praying for understanding. To be enlightened as to why my mother and family were suffering. To ask God to help me understand His plan and how my mother's death fell into that plan.

Six years after her death, I still have no idea. But I've found peace thinking that although I may never know the reason for her death and how that will fall into place in the overall scheme of things, that her death fulfilled some purpose. And someday, perhaps I will be able to understand it.

I watched my patient's family grieve this morning, and I prayed that they too will hopefully find peace amongst all of this.