HE BIG RED NUMBERS ON MY DIGITAL alarm clock read 3:00 a.m. I knew sleep was far away. I tried to think restful thoughts about the boat I wanted to build and the trip I wanted to take, but as too often happened in these night sessions, my mind rushed back to the suffering I had seen in operating rooms throughout many years.
I’ve administered thousands of anesthetics, but there is always another one waiting, I thought. The ones that go smoothly are quickly forgotten, but . . .
Once again the years and miles fell away. In my predawn memory, I was back in Africa.
“Mista Buka,” I heard the student nurse calling from my front porch. “Doctor wants you in ward 3.”
I wondered. Now what?
“Doctor wants you to put an airway in a patient,” she continued.
He must want an endotracheal tube, I thought. Anyone could put in an oral airway.
Quickly I grabbed my laryngoscope and tubes that I kept at the house for moments such as this. In less than a minute I arrived panting at ward 3.
A young African woman was lying unconscious on a bed. She had come in from the bush with severe toxemia of pregnancy. Her tongue protruded from her mouth. She had convulsed with her tongue out and had apparently bitten into a blood vessel. The tongue became so engorged with blood that it couldn’t be pushed back into her mouth.
My lighted laryngoscope couldn’t be inserted into the mouth past this swollen tongue, so I lubricated an endotracheal tube of the right size and carefully passed it into the back of her throat via one of her nostrils.
By feeling the air coming from the tube as I slowly advanced it, I was able to discern its proximity to the trachea. Vocal cords open when people inhale, so I waited for her to breathe in. When she did, I advanced the tube into her trachea. She didn’t cough; she was deeply unconscious.
We knew that the baby must be taken by Cesarean
section if we were to save
it. The woman was quickly transferred from bed to gurney and rushed down the sidewalk to the operating room attached to ward 6.
With due haste the woman’s abdomen was prepped and the child surgically removed. The infant boy was handed to me for resuscitation. He was perfect in every way, except that he wasn’t breathing. His gallant little heart was slowing down due to lack of oxygen. I put a tube into his trachea and began inflating his lungs by blowing small puffs of air through it from my own mouth. Immediately his heart rate returned to normal. I continued for a full minute. He made no effort to breathe. Whenever I stopped breathing for him, his heart again slowed. The mother had been given drugs to try to control her convulsions. These drugs had crossed the placenta to the baby and now suppressed his breathing.
I continued to breathe into his tube. Five minutes passed with no response.
Ten minutes passed by; a half hour. Still he wouldn’t breathe on his own.
An hour passed. The baby’s heart beat normally as long as I supplied his lungs with air. One and a half hours after I had been handed this little one, he took his first breath; then another. He was going to make it!
His mother died a few hours later and was carried to a small building we sometimes referred to as ward 8—the morgue.
A Tale for Our Time
Back in my bedroom the red digits on my clock had changed little during my mental trip. Now I consciously thought about the well-worn path to ward 8. I recalled the many children I had seen being carried into its bosom.
Life is so much better here, I thought. But in some ways it is the same. Suffering goes on. We just lift one patient off the operating table and . . .
Questions for Reflection
1. What things in your life tend to dull the excitement and expectation you once had for the second coming of Christ? List at least three.
2. Why do believers in developing countries seem to anticipate Christ's return to a greater degree than do believers in industrialized countries?
3. Death and disaster seem to raise our awareness of the fragility of life. How can we live in a state of readiness in the absence of such negative influences?
4. How do you keep your hope in the soon return of Jesus fresh in your consciousness?
That word triggered a synapse deep in my brain. The words of that old Adventist hymn slowly began to flow: “Lift . . . up . . . the . . . trumpet, and loud let it ring: Jesus is coming again!”
The import and urgency of these words rolled and thundered across my soul. Tears began dripping from my cheeks onto the pillow. I knew these words were the answer for my melancholy spirit. I thanked God for this revelation.
The torrent of tears began to subside, but the words continued: “Coming again, coming again, Jesus is coming again!”
Again the tears came, accompanied by big jerking sobs that awakened my wife. But now they were tears of joy! I related my experience of the last few minutes to her.
We wept together and embraced.
Oh, what a precious promise is the promise of His coming!
This African child of my breath is a young man now. I often think of him. Does he know that Jesus loves him and is coming again for him? If not, who will tell him?
“Coming again, coming again, Jesus is coming again!”
These old, familiar words truly mean more than the world to me.
Larry Bucher is a retired nurse anesthetist who lives with his wife, Carol, in Willow Springs, Missouri.