*I never knew the robust and outgoing Dr. Ken. All I knew was a man unable to speak; unable to feed himself. As a chaplain and pastor, I was called in one early Saturday morning, since Dr. Ken was near death. His family warmly greeted me. I soon felt like an important member of the family.
As the hum of Ken’s oxygen machine permeated the air, stories were shared along with tears of joy and thanksgiving. How I would have also enjoyed the days riding in the Thunderbird convertible as Dr. Ken made house calls. Or, how embarrassed I would have been when the fireworks went off in the back seat, as the response came, “What fireworks, Officer?” Or, “Here’s another one, Dad!” as another golf ball was added to Dr. Ken’s growing collection!
The hours passed as family members came and went. Many whispered love in his ear; others gave a pat on the forehead; and some simply slipped away, as tears fogged their eyes.
At times, those in the final stages of life will fight dying. Some will remain in pain and suffering and others will give up and slip away, alone. Dr. Ken was free of pain. He had lived a good life. His children were there at his bedside. Why was Dr. Ken still with us, in the moment, at this time?
“My Dad did like his quiet alone times. Perhaps, we (his children) should leave.” There was agreement and only Dr. Ken and I remained. I place my hand under his and prayed. “Lord, what shall I do?” Words to the hymn “Be Not Afraid,” came to mind. I sang quietly, wondering if I was the one afraid?
A gentle knock on the door; the family returns. A nurse comes in to check Dr. Ken–Pulse–very weak. Blood pressure–almost nonexistent. Breathing deep, labored and yet continues. We are at a loss. We sang his favorite hymns; read his favorite scriptures; recited the rosary; anointed him, again; said good-byes; shared memories; and reassured him that “all would be O.K.” with his family; and that it was “O.K.” for him to…die.
Yet, Dr. Ken was not ready. Not ready to die. Why? I prayed, “Lord, what shall I do?”
After conferring with the family, I borrowed a stethoscope and placed it in Dr. Ken’s ears (The hearing is one of the last things to go). I then placed it over his heart. Perhaps, since he was a physician, he needed to “know the facts” before a final diagnosis could be made.
As his breathing became slower, the stethoscope was removed. His breathing stopped. Stillness filled the room. Peace. Dr. Ken was gone.
In a unique and remarkable way, Dr. Ken, the physician, did “heal thyself.” For now he was well….in heaven.
For this I believe.
*Longer version, “Physician Heal Thyself: A Final Diagnosis,” published in Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, Fall 2007. Permission granted from Dr. Ken’s family to share story.
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