In the just short of five years since graduating from UMD, my faith has grown out of challenges I was presented with as a medical student. The culmination of these challenges lends itself to my fundamental belief in the need for challenges to grow in our faith. Throughout medical school, I have found myself on the front lines of many of the cultural, social, and political hot button issues of our modern age – abortion, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide. I will highlight two stories where I was challenged and lessons I learned from them.
It was a cold, late, December night in Spanish Harlem’s inner city hospital in Manhattan. A 27 year old pregnant woman walks in complaining of abdominal pain. We did the standard work-up: labs, physical exam. Nothing concerning found – no signs of appendicitis, cholecystitis, obstruction etc. I was called in to do the ultrasound – I found the heartbeat and smiled. The patient spoke very poor English and I know about ten words of Spanish. I left the room and the patient was hysterical five minutes later. She finally told us (three hours into her ED visit) that she took two of five abortion pills and now feels guilty and wants to make sure the baby is okay. The rest of the ED smirked and said well why did she take the pills if she wanted to keep her baby? I consulted OBGYN and asked them about doing a progesterone injection to increase the chances of viability – they told me there was no evidence behind this treatment. (On a side note, as a fourth year student, you do not argue with a board certified OBGYN attending on OB patients that show up in your ED). I decided to get the hotline number in Spanish for the patient to connect with a doctor who could do the injection. I don’t know what happened to her or her baby as she walked out ten minutes later. But I knew God was asking me to do something in that moment. Even if that something was simply supporting my patient during a difficult time and offering her an alternative that may be clinically beneficial to keeping her pregnancy viable.
A month later I found myself at a Grand Rounds Lecture (once/week lecture where the entire medicine department gets together for lunch to talk about a medical topic) on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS). This talk happened a day after my fifty some year old patient succumbed to aggressive metastatic cancer. I found my heart racing, anxiety sky-high as I heard the one-sided viewpoint about how this is compassionate care, that we should not call it suicide, that its’ legality in all fifty states is inevitable. I was surrounded by over fifteen senior physicians, thirty residents, but knew I had to say something. God was calling me to (on a side note, I wish He could slow own my heart rate and nerves when asking for such a thing). I rose my hand and said five percent of Belgium’s population died by PAS or euthanasia these days – the slippery slope is not a surreal concept, but a real one that has already taken hold. The room stared at me and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. They asked where I got that number from. I responded with Dr. Quill – perhaps the most avid pro-PAS/euthanasia physician in the modern age. I heard him speak at a lecture at Columbia just days before. My comment was generally ignored.
The point of sharing these stories is not to highlight some hyper-dramatic response to the anti-life culture or to show that somehow I have more courage to speak up than others. It is to highlight the fact that I was scared, emotionally drained, and quite honestly, terrified of speaking up. But I spoke up because if not us, who will? God calls on us to place our trust in Him in times of vulnerability. The Christian life is not an easy one. God did not promise to take away our fears. He promised that he would be there for us. We are the living Gospel, the only bible someone may ever meet. God uses us in ways we will never understand, but we must trust in Him. We must be a Christian every day, all day, in our professions and at home, not just for one hour on Sundays. We must be okay with being vulnerable and being scared. It is then that our faith grows and we learn to trust in the Lord.
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,
when you encounter various trials,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect,
so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The author, who is Catholic Terps alumnus, asked to remain anonymous.