“Jesus came to his home town, and on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus could do no deed of power there.” (Mark 6:1-3, 5)
July 5, 2015
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“Even if no life was saved, an ER physician makes a difference.” In this blog authored by Kevin Bird, MD, there seem to be echoes of the gospel passage we hear today, and so I share excerpts with you:
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“I walk out of the patient room. My eyes stare at the computer screen. I’m behind, way behind. My neck feels tense, and I have a headache. I look up. A man walks out of a patient room across the hall. Our eyes lock. I quickly look away. There are patients waiting. I need to get moving. I put my head down and turn to walk away.
“‘Doctor. Doctor. Are you Doctor Bird?’ he calls to me with urgency. Crap, I think to myself. I’m never going to get caught up. ‘Yes?’ I answer, hesitantly. ‘Did you work at [such-and-such] Medical Center about 10 years ago?’ he asks. He looks familiar, but I can’t place him. ‘You won’t remember me, but you took care of my son,’ he says, with a warming smile. Right then, it hits me, like a ton of bricks. ‘My son had cancer,’ he says.
“‘Brain cancer,’ I answer, and right then my mind goes back 10 years at warp speed, back to room 10, during a chaotic shift at my first job out of residency. I’m looking at a 12-year-old boy laying in bed. His eyes are sunken and gaunt, skin pale, hair blond. He’s dying of cancer and all treatments have failed. I had never seen a child so sick, so ill appearing, yet still alive. He looks like he’s in terrible pain. There’s nothing left to do, but to try to make his last few days, hours and moments as painless as possible. He needs IV fluids, some pain and nausea medicine and needs to be made comfortable. In a chair next to him is his father, dying inside. My heart sinks. ‘I remember you, and I remember him. I even remember the room you were in.’
“‘He died shortly after that. But I still remember you. You really took the time to ease his suffering, if only for a short time. That meant a lot to me. Most of all, you seemed to care,’ he says.
“I felt a little dizzy having a flashback so vivid and real. Walking down the far hallway, walking in the room and closing the door. As the door closed behind me, it was stark quiet. I remember feeling the heart-wrenching sadness of this man sitting next to his dying son, so helpless. I felt equally helpless. I remember thinking, I don’t care how many patients are waiting. I need to pause and listen, if only for a short time. I need to acknowledge what this boy, his father and family are going through. I need to find some way, no matter how small, to make things a little better, or a little less painful for both of them. Someday, I’ll have children, I think to myself. Someday this could be my child, or my family member. Someday this could be me.
“He smiles again. ‘I don’t want to keep you any longer. It looks like you’re having a busy day. Again, I just wanted to tell you I remembered you. You were very nice that day. And thanks,’ he says, as he turns and walks away. ‘Thank you,’ I say, truly touched, and half-choking out the words myself. I turn and walk away. I sit down. I take a deep breath. Somehow, I think to myself, somehow, I had made a difference. There was no life saved that day, no heart restarted. There was no great diagnosis or adrenaline-inducing procedure to be done. Somehow I feel that an angel-like being had come to tell the faint vestige of the idealistic pre-med hopeful that still remained in me, ‘Keep up the good work. You’re making much more of a difference than you’ll ever know.’
“My eyes lock back down on to the computer screen to see who my next patient is going to be. I need to get back to work, as I’m falling farther behind. For a moment, my neck feels slightly better and my headache is gone. I look at the clock. My day is almost done.” (www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/11)
Powerlessness: I imagine every one of us has experienced it. It is acutely painful when shepherds—among them parents, teachers, and doctors—are unable to provide for those given to their care. The anguish is soul-deep.
Perhaps, though, feelings of powerlessness are something of a mirage. Though a caregiver may be unable to provide what seems most necessary at the moment, Dr. Bird’s story reminds us that the gift of compassionate presence is of value beyond measure.
Every human has experienced some degree of powerlessness, and the gospel passage we hear today testifies that Jesus, too, knew what it felt like to stand helpless before a situation he could not change. As St. Mark writes, “Jesus came to his home town, and on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus could do no deed of power there.” (Mark 6:1-3, 5)
Entering the synagogue in his hometown, Jesus was rejected by the congregation, their lack of faith rendering him powerless. I can picture Jesus, head hung low in sorrow, leaving the synagogue. No flashy miracle that day, no healings, no one raised from the dead; it was just Jesus standing there, listening to them, caring for them, wanting the best for them. Just so is he with us every moment of our lives.