In late 1991, I became the sole chaplain at Houston Northwest Medical Center in Houston Texas.
The hospital boasted the busiest trauma center outside downtown, so it was the perfect blend of trauma and drama for my adrenaline-seeking personality.
The suburban hospital served the fourth largest city in the U.S., which meant that our emergency room kept me busy comforting those who’d lost family members to electrocutions, drownings, shootings, child abuse, car accidents and even a suicide in our hospital driveway.
So naturally, when a nurse paged me one afternoon to tell me that the ER was treating a baby from a car accident, I expected the worst. She also added that I should look for the distraught father in the ER waiting room.
A few minutes later, I found a tall young man pacing our waiting room and bellowing into a brick-size cell phone. He seemed to be talking to his wife, saying things like “I don’t know” and “They are calling the surgeon now.”
By the time he’d finished, I was sure he was the distraught father I sought. I approached him slowly, but not just in anticipation of the possible tragedy. Cell calls cost a dollar per minute in those days; it felt like I was approaching “money.”
He returned his phone to his leather briefcase as I managed to introduce myself. When I asked him about his baby, he flashed a spacious smile with a hint of embarrassment.
“Oh, he’ll be OK,” he said. “It’s just a scratch.”
Now it was my turn to display embarrassment. The nurse described a car accident and a baby. Where was the tragedy?
“No tragedy,” the man said. “My son will only need five stitches.”
“But, I heard you mention a surgeon.”
“Yes,” he explained, “I requested a plastic surgeon to do the stitches so there won’t be any scars.”
I hid my smirk. Yup, I was talking to money, likely old money. As the father of four, I’d seen how quickly small scars fade from young skin, especially baby skin.
A moment later, he turned to answer a call from adoring grandparents and I ducked into the ER treatment area in search of more serious pastoral needs.
The plastic surgeon request seemed over the top but I could understand that the dad wanted the unblemished baby he’d dressed that morning.
I’ve often used the story to reflect on the extravagant love of God. Christian tradition teaches that God’s love is dispensed from “The Great Physician,” a scripturally based title Jesus used of himself.
Before one can submit to a physician’s care, however, even a great one, one must confess imperfections and blemishes. Jesus expressed a special reproach for those who considered themselves too pure to need spiritual care.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor,” he said, “but the sick.”
He was saying the healing love of God is accessed through one’s personal confession that he or she is sick or blemished.
It was a slow afternoon and I didn’t find anybody else in obvious need, so I stopped to consult the ER doctor as she wrote her physician note about the baby.
I told the ER doctor about the doting father in the ER waiting room. When she said the plastic surgeon was on his way, I asked if he expressed some annoyance over being called for such an insignificant cut.
“Not at all,” she said. “He sounded rather happy to be making five grand for 15 minutes work.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” Recorded comments are welcome at 843-608-9715. You may also send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.
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