Many young physicians in training have asked me, quietly or by e-mail, “Is it possible to be a Christian and practice emergency medicine?” I think that they ask a good question, and likely for good reasons.
In their rotations, they have witnessed, first hand, life in the ER. They are uncertain, perhaps, because they see the frustration that boils over in the words and actions of otherwise compassionate and caring doctors and nurses. They hear the bitterness and sarcasm, the profanity, the unkind words spoken behind the glass window that separates professional from patient.
They also see, hear, touch — and often smell — the humanity that pours through the doors of trauma centers, academic emergency departments, community ERs and all the rest. There is suffering and loss, and the long, piercing wail of the bereaved down the hall, receiving the worst news of all. They experience the addicted, the drug seeker who will tell any lie, contrive any store to get the pill or injection he or she so needs and desires. They witness the poverty and need, the hungry, empty eyes of neglected children. The may witness, or experience, the explosive violence, and cruelty of the drunk, the criminal, the wounded. In such a place, between suffering patients and suffering staff, what young, wide-eyed Christian wouldn’t ask, “Dr. Leap, is it possible to keep your faith and work in the emergency department?”
So here is my short epistle on the topic:
To the believers in the hospitals and emergency rooms, the church medical, across the land, around the world. From your brother Edwin, who these years has fallen and gotten up over and over and who loves you and wishes to encourage you.
It is my prayer that you have strength to face the sickness and pain into which you plunge yourself every day. All around you come victims; victims of disease and accident, victims of violence and neglect, cruelty and hatred. The drunk and addicted, the angry and the sad, the suicidal and lost, the rejected and abused, the healthy and also the dying; and all are among the dying in the end. Remember that all of them, and all of us, are also victims of sin, for it was in our separation from God in ancient times that all of this pain began, and in which death took hold of those originally destined for life.
Remember that the guilty and the innocent alike suffer from this and that our Lord came to be an intercessor, high priest and atoning sacrifice for all. Your struggle is against the infirmities of the flesh, but also against the wounds of the spirit that underly all suffering in this veil, until we reach the kingdom where death has no power … and you will be out of work for all eternity. Amen.
Look around you each day, and consider that the emergency room, the hospital ward, the clinic, the operating room, these are places where the gospel is shown forth to you in power, a great gift from the Father so that you may understand by the example of others’ troubles what spiritual truths lie beneath it all and undergird it all.
Although we are all poor reflections, destined to one day (as the word says) to “be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” we are still his dim but ever growing likeness. And we are His hands, feet, mouth, eyes, mind. Like Him, we who go day in and day out among the lost, the suffering and those who (despite their willfulness) are hostages to evil.
And although we may have sin in our hearts, although we judge and are angry and frustrated, we do His work. That is, brothers and sisters, we bring love and touch and healing and comfort to those who frequently have done nothing to deserve it, who exhibit no gratitude or intent to change, but who need our love, need the love of Jesus. And like Him, we will show it seventy times seven, through temper tantrums thrown our way, complaints, cruel words, irresponsibility, patient satisfaction, EMR (the devil’s work) and every other difficulty.
Dear ones, in the ER, grace is at work, and a model of grace is there for you to enact and understand. You give undeserved love and care for everyone all day, every day. The Spirit gives you strength in hardship so that you may be bold, whether rested or tired, prepared or unprepared.
One day, on that Great Day, you will see that each act, every stitch, every comforting hand, every EKG, every airway, every psychiatric commitment, each and every weary step into the same room with the same patient and same complaint, every unkind word for another physician restrained, every patient act, these were all acts of grace that molded you. And the Father, Son, and Spirit will welcome you, veteran of ten thousand daily trials.
And it is in this way that one can be a Christian in the ER, in the trauma center, clinic, operating room, delivery suite and all the rest despite the trials, temptations, and bitterness that the enemy of our souls inflicts up on us in our work.
May the God of all peace guide you and strengthen you in your difficult work, and fill you with radiant, overwhelming love.
And may you have a quiet shift.
Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan.
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