CHRISTMAS FIRSTS (PART 2)
The next morning was Christmas, and I made early-morning rounds—well before Kate and Scott would wake up to celebrate Christmas. I found Evan alone but awake. I greeted him and sat on the bed. His breathing was labored and shallow.
“Evan, how are you feeling?”
“Not so good, Doc. Didn’t sleep well.”
“Seems you’re breathing harder than last night. I’d better get Carroll to take another X-ray.”
“He’s already been here—along with Betty the Vampire.”
I smiled at his reference to Betty Carlson, the director of our laboratory. “Let me go take a look at it and let you know what I see, okay? Anything else I can do?”
“Doc, I’ve been told you’re a man of faith. I’ve also been told you’re a very good doctor. But I’ve got to tell you, I was worried about coming over here to see you.”
Evan didn’t answer for a moment. Then he looked deeply into my eyes. “Doc, lots of Bible-thumpers call people like me evil and nasty things. I was worried you might think the same.”
Now it was my turn to be quiet for a moment. I was trying to think about how to respond to this man’s honesty and transparency. It was an unnerving moment for me. But, cautiously, I continued.
“Evan, my faith teaches me that the most important thing in life is a personal relationship with God. Everything else pales in comparison to that. And I found that when I began that relationship with God, he was fully able and willing to guide me in doing and thinking the right things. So the real issue isn’t what I think or what you think, but what he thinks.”
Evan smiled, and I saw tears forming in his eyes. “When I was a kid, church was important to me. I really enjoyed going—but never did I enjoy it more than on Christmas Eve. But when I grew up I just grew away from it. Do you think your God would even want a relationship with me?”
For a moment I thought about the Bible verse “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I was pleased Evan felt comfortable enough to ask. But I’d always been taught in medical school that it was unethical to discuss religion with patients. However, Evan had asked—in essence, he had given me permission to share with him. So I decided to proceed—albeit carefully and very uncomfortably. Spiritual discussions were simply not something I had been trained to provide in the medical environment, but I’d begun to carefully incorporate them into my practice during my first year in Bryson City. Furthermore, a still, small whisper was encouraging me to harvest this opportunity to share an intimate part of myself with a very, very sick patient.
“Evan, I know God wants to have a relationship with you. My understanding of the Bible is that it tells us that God loves each of us. Actually, he loves us so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus, not just to be born in a manger but to live a perfect life for us as an example and then to die a torturous death for us—for all of our wrongdoing. Evan, if you’re willing to believe that, God’s willing to begin that relationship with you—today—but only if you want to.”
Evan looked out the window of the ICU. The daylight was just starting. For just a moment, I was concerned he might have been upset, but instead, he turned back to me and whispered, “It would be a good day to start.”
I was quiet. The tears began to flow down his face, and he sniffled. I reached out and took his hand. He gave my hand a squeeze and then looked back at me. “Doc, I’ve done a lot of wrong things. Guess you thumpers would call me a pretty bad sinner, huh?” He smiled as he wiped his tears with his free hand.
I smiled back at him. “Evan, that puts you and me in the same exact crowd.”
He cocked his head and looked at me. “Dr. Larimore, are you …? Are you like me?”
“You are?” he asked.
“Yes, but let me explain. The Bible explains that the sexually immoral and idolaters and adulterers and homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God. But, Evan, it also says in the same verse that the greedy and slanderers and swindlers won’t either.”
Evan was quiet in his thoughts, so I continued. “You’re a homosexual. And I’m greedy and a slanderer. I’ve been far more selfish than I should have been, and I’m certainly guilty of gossiping more than I should. So, according to the Bible, you and I are in the same exact crowd.”
Evan smiled and squeezed my hand. I felt an acute sense that God was gently leading my thoughts and words.
“Evan, the Bible describes many names for Jesus. My favorite is that he was known as a friend of sinners. All he requires from us, if we want to have a personal relationship with him—if we want to be his friend—is for us simply to admit that we’ve missed the mark, that we’ve sinned and done wrong.”
“I guess I would qualify.”
“Me too, Evan.” I paused to let him think for a moment.
“I think I’d like to be his friend. That would be nice—especially on Christmas Day,” Evan whispered between labored breaths. “How do I start?”
Dear Lord, I thought, what do I say now? Then I had an overshadowing and extremely comforting sense that God had been at work in Evan’s life for a long time. His spiritual journey and awakening had started long before today. I wasn’t exactly sure who had been involved in his life up to this point, but I was sure God now had a small part for me to play in Evan’s story.
“Actually, Evan, it’s pretty easy. You just talk to God—what we thumpers call prayer.”
We smiled, and I continued. “Just let God know you’re ready—invite him into a relationship with you, into your heart, and he’ll come in. First, you have to realize that you’ve done wrong. Then you have to be willing to trust him with your life and your choices.”
Evan nodded and closed his eyes. “Lord,” he whispered, “I begin.”
It was the shortest and sweetest prayer I had ever heard. He looked up at me and smiled. We were both silent—sitting together after a conversation we had begun as doctor and patient and concluded as spiritual brothers.
“Evan, the Bible says that when we admit to God our wrongdoing—just agree with him that we’ve missed the mark— he will instantly and eternally forgive our sins. And based on that forgiveness, he’s willing to become your friend and your Lord and to reserve a room for you in heaven.”
The tears were still flowing down his cheeks. He nodded.
“Evan, the Bible says that when we receive Jesus, when we believe in his name, he gives us the right to become children of God, not like when we’re born physically but when we’re born spiritually—of God.”
Evan nodded, tears still running down his cheeks.
“So, my friend, if you’re a child of God and I’m a child of God, then what does that make us?”
He thought a moment and then smiled. “Brothers?” he whispered.
I smiled and nodded.
“I’ve never had a hug from a brother,” he said quietly.
I slowly pulled him up and felt his arms encircle my shoulders. He was very, very weak, but his hug was very, very real. After we hugged, I eased him back down.
“Would you like to see a pastor today to talk a bit more about this?”
He smiled, nodded, and squeezed my hand. We were quiet for a moment as I thought about our extraordinary encounter. I hadn’t been trained to incorporate spirituality into my medical practice, and despite my initial discomfort, my time with Evan had seemed so spontaneous and sincere. Once Evan gave me permission to share all of who I was as his physician, it had seemed natural.
“Evan, I need to go check that X-ray, okay?”
I went to the X-ray reading room, and on my way back to ICU, I saw one of the RTs running toward the unit. I walked quickly into ICU and arrived just in time to see Evan surrounded by nurses and in the process of being intubated by the RT.
“He just had a respiratory arrest. BP has bottomed out. Bradycardia. Okay to get him on a ventilator?”
I nodded my assent and went to work.
But from there, things went downhill fairly quickly. Evan’s pneumonia quickly evolved into ARDS—a severe form of respiratory disease that is very difficult to treat—and then he went into kidney and liver failure. He died late that afternoon.
The autopsy report confirmed pneumonia but blamed it on a bacterium I’d never treated before—Pneumocystis carinii. The report also confirmed multi-organ failure and a form of cancer—Kaposi’s sarcoma—but said the cancer was confined only to his skin. I could only assume, with what I knew then, that this unusual infection had overwhelmed his immune system and caused his death.
I called Richard’s shop to give him the results, but the number had been disconnected. I then called Richard’s home—but, once again, the number had been disconnected. Ella Jo told me she heard that Richard had closed the shop soon after Evan’s death and left the area. I was never able to find him, but I wondered if he didn’t know, even then, that Evan’s death had in some way been related to their relationship.
Evan had not died of cancer. Nor would such a mild bacterium have overwhelmed an intact immune system. I now know he died of a disease that was then unnamed—HIV/AIDS.
So Evan was my first patient with this horrible disease. But he was also the first patient with whom I shared my personal faith so forthrightly—and the first to so openly ask me to do so. Looking back over a long career in family medicine, Evan’s case and his decision to give his life to Christ represented one of the high points.
But what his autopsy did not show, and could not show, was that Evan died a new man—spiritually. He had become a friend of God. He had been born as a son of God on the day we celebrated the birth of the Son of God. And his life truly began the morning of the day it ended.
I know I’ll see him again one day. I hope he’ll give me—his brother in the Lord—another hug.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY SEASONS
- Dead Man Standing (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Eyes Wide Open (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Auspicious Accidents (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Answered Prayers (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- Rotary Luncheon
- Death by Emotion (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- The Invitation (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Barbecue and Bacon (Part 1), (Part 2)
- A Touchy Subject
- Family Time (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Chicken Pops(Part 1), (Part 2)
- Swain County Football (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Hospital Politics (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- The Bobcat Attacks (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Dungeons and Apples
- A Tale of Two Surgeons (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Tanned Feets (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Wise Counsel (Part 1), (Part 2)
- An Anniversary to Remember (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Mrs. Black Fox (Part 1), (Part 2)
- The Littlest Cherokee (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Christmas Firsts (Part 1), (Part 2)
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.