My mentor and friend, John Tarpley, lives by aphorisms and one of these is: “the only way not to spill water is not to carry water.” As a surgeon, this is so true. Complications are intrinsic to practicing surgery, and while we can’t avoid them completely, we work hard to minimize and eliminate them where possible. These complications can be incredibly discouraging and at times almost paralyzing. I read once that God doesn’t call us to be successful; He calls us to be faithful. I’ve attributed this to Mother Teresa though I suspect she just passed it on and I caught it along the way. I’ve held on to this proverb as I’ve struggled to deal with complications throughout my training and practice as a surgeon. This is part and parcel of being a physician, and particularly a surgeon – I’m far from unique in all of this. I hurt with families when their children suffer and especially when they die. We can’t understand God’s plan sometimes, but I trust and believe that He is faithful in and through all the hard things in this life.
Just recently I operated on a newborn named Wanjiku with a condition called intestinal atresia. This condition can manifest itself in a wide spectrum of presentations but fundamentally is a congenital blockage of the intestine. A unique thing about this girl was that I had operated on her brother, the family’s first-born child, a little over 2y ago who had the most extreme manifestation of the condition. Despite all our prayers and best efforts, this newborn boy died not long after birth. When Wanjiku was brought to Kijabe Hospital with the same condition, I could see in her father’s face the concern and fear that she might suffer the same fate as her brother. As we prayed together before Wanjiku’s operation, I too felt the trepidation of what I would find at operation. In the operating theater I was able to inspect the intestine and found Wanjiku to have a much less severe form of atresia and right then I said out loud, “thank you, Lord.” Everyday at Wanjiku’s bedside after the operation, I found Mom and/or Dad caring for her and I could tell that while they hoped and prayed for the best, their past experience caused them to fear the worst. Wanjiku’s post-operative course was wholly and completely uneventful. She sailed through the first few days waiting for her bowel to start working and then quickly advanced on feeding. She was discharged home and came to clinic this past week gaining weight and looking great. Her parents even then were cautiously optimistic, worried that other complications might ensue. As we talked about their son’s death and their daughter’s current progress, I saw in them hearts that had suffered and hurt deeply as they grieved the passing of their son. However, they expressed real belief and trust in God’s faithfulness - their faith having been tested and strengthened in the Refiner’s fire in a way that no one would ever choose. I see them and their beautiful daughter and I praise God not just for the gift of Wanjiku and her recovery from surgery, but also for the faithfulness of a God who loves us and calls us to himself. Even when we are not successful, He is faithful.
(Wanjiku’s parents have graciously agreed and encouraged me to share their story on our blog. They gave permission for me to post this picture of Wanjiku at her first clinic visit.)