As a surgeon I often get to care for patients who find themselves in desperate need. One time it may be from advanced cancer, another from severe infection, and yet another due to a car accident or an act of tribal or domestic violence. These individuals come to Kudjip looking for healing as well as something or someone to ease their suffering. One of the most challenging lessons that I am learning is that not every patient can be helped. Sometimes my best as a surgeon just isn’t good enough. Too often what we have to offer in this resource-limited place just doesn’t cut it. I knew that this would be the case long before I moved back to PNG to serve. I don’t think I was naive about the reality of being a surgeon in Papua New Guinea. In the past five months I have witnessed more death on my watch than in my five years of surgical training. I’d like to think that each of these deaths has been from advanced disease or lack of resources. But I know there have been instances when my inexperience as a young surgeon has led me to operate when perhaps I should have waited or maybe not even gone to surgery at all. Thankfully I have an experienced, invested, and supportive senior partner who on many occasions has gotten me out of a jam or kept me from getting into one in the first place. To have my father as a partner is an incredible resource and thrill for me. He has helped me to see which patients we can help and how best to do it. And at times, he’s shown when it is best to do nothing. I am coming to realize the truth of the surgical adage that states, “The best surgeons are the ones who know when not to operate.” Its becoming clear that this wisdom comes from experience…experience that sometimes teaches unpleasant lessons.
As a physician I feel that I’m called to go to battle with death and disease. But as a follower of Jesus I am compelled to believe that we were not brought into existence for death and disease. The Creator’s intent was never suffering, but rather life…and life to the fullest. Two poems have been on my mind as I have been wrestling with these concepts of life and death in this setting where they are so very tangible. These poems have crossed my mind frequently at the end of the day or in the middle of the night after a particularly difficult case or when I’ve done all I can for a patient on the ward. I’ll share portions of each that have been especially present on my mind in these days. The first is Dylan Thomas’s, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
And you, my father, there on the sad height. Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The second that has become so meaningful to me is Annie Flint’s, “He giveth more grace.” The second stanza has become my testimony in recent days.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father’s full giving is only begun. His love has no limits His grace has no measure, His power, no boundary know unto men; For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
I want my patients to rage against the dying of the light. My promise to them is that I will do the same. The only way I make this commitment is through my firm belief in a God who cares infinitely more for my patients than I ever can.
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9a