With all the talk about a “fiscal cliff,” “soaring taxes in 2013,” and “dramatically reduced take-home incomes,” I was reminded of a lesson I learned when I was a young family physicians practicing in Kissimmee, Florida. In fact, earlier this year, Nancy Kennedy, published this story in her book, Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Doctors. Nancy has also written the book, Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Military Chaplains. I hope you enjoy the story and that it will be a blessing and encouragement to you to become truly rich in 2013.After spending his life in the jungles of Africa teaching, preaching and ministering, John returned to Kissimmee, Florida, to retire at age 72. His return was forced, due to what he called “a considerable thorn in the flesh.”
A number of men in his family had suffered and died from congestive heart failure. Now, multiple parasitic infections had complicated his heart condition and the renal difficulties associated with it.
Because of John’s frequent need for medical care, we became good friends. He was a man of unpretentious faith and unadorned words. He had few worldly goods and no earthly estate of any consequence. Many would consider his life plain, even unsuccessful. I found him, however, to be rich with experience and abundant sagacity—a treasure trove of wonderful memories and stories. His wisdom was based upon the crucible of life experiences and the Scriptures, which he so obviously cherished.
The moments I spent with him were fruitful, and always too short. His timing was impeccable. He seemed to be in the office whenever my partners and I were discouraged or down. We fretted more about his health than he did.
He always told us he thought we lived in a society with too many luxuries, and that most of us had forgotten the purity of the basics. He loved to say that America has too much fast food, too many fast lanes, too many shortcuts, and too much instant gratification. He often quoted Max Lucado, saying, “America is the only country in the world with a mountain called ‘Rushmore.’” He encouraged us to differentiate between what most people consider to be wealth—money, securities, houses, possessions, positions and power—and what he felt made up true wealth—relationships, service, wisdom, love, joy, peace, wonderful memories and an abiding faith.
I cared for him for three years, until at age 75, he found himself in our local hospital because his overgrown prostate had led to sudden and painful urinary retention, which threw him into the mercies of our medical system and under my care.
In the hospital, I drained his bloated bladder and brought his heart and kidney failure into some sort of equilibrium, but his prostate needed attention beyond my skill level. So I asked for a consultation from a urologist.
This colleague of mine was generally believed to be the wealthiest person in our town. His automobile cost more than most people’s houses, his monthly mortgage more than my annual one, and he seemed to take great pride in showing off his numerous and expensive possessions.
The nurse who was caring for John told me about the urologic consultation. The doctor pompously entered the room while John and his wife, Beth, were praying over their breakfast. Rather than interrupting—as would be his usual approach—he stood quietly by. When John looked up, he apologized for making the doctor wait.
“Humph,” sneered the doctor, regarding the full‑liquid meal. “If that was all I had to eat, I don’t think I’d feel very thankful.”
John smiled and replied, “Well, it really is quite enough for us.” His wife nodded in agreement. Then John said: “I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. I’m glad you came by this morning because I want to tell you about a dream I had last night.”
The nurse and urologist looked on, amused.
John gazed out the window across the neighboring field as he related his vision: “The dream began with light and beauty all around me, and I felt so peaceful. Then I heard a soft, warm voice say to me, ‘The richest man in town will die tonight.’”
The specialist was stunned, and for a moment he was speechless. As John turned his soft, brown eyes to look at this younger man, the doctor exclaimed, “Dreams … rubbish! Let’s take a look at what we can do something about—your prostate problem.”
Then the urologist performed a thorough exam. When the doctor left, John turned to the nurse and his wife and wistfully said, “I pray the Lord will have mercy on him.”
As I found out later, John’s warning reverberated in the surgeon’s mind all morning. Die tonight? he thought. Rubbish! Absolute rubbish! He felt the best thing do was forget about it—but he couldn’t. It plagued him the entire day. He found himself wondering about the substernal pain he had last week during his divorce deposition and the recurrent heartburn he had experienced during his most recent malpractice trial.
Could these signs be a warning of something more serious? His thoughts tormented him throughout the day. Finally, after his last patient, he jumped in his expensive sports car and came to my office. My receptionist later told me he had entered the office that evening unannounced, demanding and expecting us—as he usually did—to drop everything to examine his malady of the day. He was waiting at my office door, obviously distressed and aggravated. Before I examined him, he told me the whole story.
It was unusual for this surgeon to exhibit fear. I did a complete examination. Apart from the smoker’s rhonchi, which cleared with a cough, the results were normal. With that reassurance sloughed aside, the urologist demanded a chest X-ray, a complete blood count and an electrocardiogram. All tests were normal.
I thought to myself, Other than your chronic stress, acute anxiety, recurrent dyspepsia, dysfunctional family relationships, misplaced priorities, obvious spiritual needs, possible masked depression and tobacco abuse, you’re fine. But I had the fortitude only to say, “You’re as healthy as a horse, at least physically. But it wouldn’t hurt to begin to take care of yourself physically and spiritually.”
He seemed reassured but wanted to be certain. “Cut to the chase,” he said sharply. “What’s the bottom line?”
I sensed his urgency and said, “There is no way you’re going to die tonight. However, if you don’t stop smoking and begin to take care of yourself…” I began the admonishment, but he didn’t allow me to finish.
Having received the reassurance he had come for, and after having gruffly silenced the sermon, he muttered, “Thanks, Walt. I really appreciate the help.” Then he quickly left, confident that his health was as permanent as his considerable skills and wealth. But to me it was obvious that he was embarrassed to have been, as he said, “so foolishly upset by a debilitated man’s delusional dream.”
The phone call came at about 4 a.m. It took a moment for me to wake up as I heard the distress in the voice on the other end of the phone. “Walt, I can’t believe it. I woke up and found him dead. He wasn’t breathing. He didn’t make any noise. He didn’t even wake me. He died in his sleep. When I dozed off, he seemed to be sleeping so peacefully. Now, he’s gone.”
It was Beth, relaying the bad news that John had died.
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. John had seemed stable when I saw him earlier that evening in the hospital. Then I remembered his dream and his vivid prediction.
Indeed, the richest man in town had died that night.
Copyright © 2012 by Walt Larimore, MD. All rights reserved worldwide.