THE DOCTOR’S CHECKUP
This week I attended my much dreaded appointment with my physician to discuss my annual medical check-up. Of course, this was not a voluntary visit. I am required to make an annual journey to the lab to discover if my “numbers” would satisfy my insurance company’s regulations, and if not, “change my ways” within the next 6 months or pay a higher premium (yes, just a bit of sarcasm there). Unlike my husband, whose blood pressure rises about 10 points just walking into the doctor’s office, I don’t mind the occasional visit, because I like my doctor. He is a handsome young man, caring, gentle, concerned about his patients, intelligent and excels in his profession. Over the years, I have come to respect him and enjoy him as a person. He is always straight forward with his diagnosis and attentively listens to his patients’ concerns. I am very grateful for my health insurance, I know how quickly life can take us down an unexpected path and it is of some comfort to know that financial help will be available. So, my discomfort is not in seeing my doctor, or really even meeting my insurance guidelines. The real truth is that I must face head-on what I may have thoughtlessly done to my body over the last year and the work I will have to do to correct those mistakes. My choices and my consequences.
My doctor, who is very prompt for his appointments (another reason he impresses me) came into the examining room and asked how things were going. I told him I had recently retired and he said, “Well what have you been doing with your time?” I explained that I was now doing research and working with a local lawyer. He asked if this involved research work for trials and I responded that, “No, my work centered on pro-life support.” This seemed to interest him and he further questioned, “What do you do with the information that you collect?” I explained that there was a mailing list as well as a website to share the information we obtained. “Hmmm”, he responded “So what good is that, because most people have their minds made up regarding abortion and to hear the other side will just result in an argument.”
Well, I was his last appointment for the day and I thought maybe this is an opportunity to see what good the work could do. Remember, I said that he excelled in his profession and one of the important aspects of being a good physician is to be inquisitive. I look forward to opportunities to share, so the stage was set.
“It is true,” I told him, “people do get set in their beliefs and few have an open mind or desire to change their minds. It is important to express love and the “good of humanity” when approaching any controversial subject. I cannot support extremists who destroy property, block people from entering a building, or carry signs that insult. However, I do believe that we must be informed of all aspects of our actions and how they will affect not only our lives, but the lives of others. I do believe that we have been given the responsibility of caring for our fellow man and remembering the value of each individual person. I believe that we cannot live our lives carelessly enjoying pleasures that result in the procreation of a new human being, and then out of convenience, destroy that life because it was “not in our plan.” We have approved our teenagers’ access to abortion without parental knowledge or consent in many states, or allowance is made for minors to be excused from obtaining parental knowledge or consent in most remaining states by simply asking a judge to protect them from getting permission or telling their parent or guardian of their pregnancy and abortion plan. (This is called a “judicial bypass.”) . A young person, that typically lacks the maturity and judgment to make informed decisions before they reach the age of 18 (in most states) makes a life or death decision without benefit of guidance from the people who love them the most…their parents. Yet, not only does other medical treatment for minors require parental consent, it is required that written parental permission be submitted for a student to take an aspirin at school, or go to a tanning salon, or attend a movie rating over PG13 (parental guidance over the age of 13). Do we see a thread of common sense when we make a comparison of these facts?
Ah, now I can see my doctor’s mind racing with thoughts coming so quickly he is almost too excited to choose his next words. “Okay” he said “I hear what you are saying about careless pregnancies, but what about rape or incest?” I paused for a moment, then stated, “These are tragic situations, of course, but there are always other opportunities in these cases rather than abortion. There is adoption, even open adoption so that the birth mother, who may be underage and cannot provide financially or emotionally for a child can place a newborn in the care of a loving family, who wants and is prepared for a child. This open adoption allows the biological mother contact as her child grows, and she can be assured she has made the best decision for her child and herself.” We cannot make life and death decisions based on what we believe may be less than ideal conditions. I have witnessed many lives blossom out of dire circumstances. Like those little cracks in the concrete sidewalks in the city that unexpectedly spring forth little flowers or even trees. Such a surprising delight out of the least likely set of circumstances. As a matter of fact, I recently read of a couple who became pregnant with five babies. Several doctors tried to discourage the mother from carrying all babies to term. She and her husband were adamant to see all five of their children born into their family regardless of the cost, the effort or the difficulties they may face in raising these little ones. They told the doctors they had been given a gift and they would commit themselves to their responsibility. Today, the mother reports that two of her children are lawyers and three are doctors. She stated with a smile, that “she was privileged to have given birth to five children who save lives and fight for justice. She and her husband have no regrets.
There have been many youth that I have worked with who came from horrible family situations. Among them, there was one young man who witnessed his father’s suicide and his mother’s refusal to be in his life. In other temporary living situations he was locked in a closet all day and left alone while the “caretakers” left the apartment. He stayed alone in that closet with no food, sitting in his own urine and feces day after day. Today, that young man is a fireman with two little girls he adores. He has used his life experiences to make a difference in the world and others’ lives. With his free will he chooses not to see the problems, but to find the solutions. He has bloomed where no one thought possible. There are so many other such successes I could share after 21 years of working with at-risk-youth. Their parents, their teachers, their neighbors and others involved in their seemingly “destitute lives” became inspired by these unlikely and inspirational heroes. Would the world be a better place if we could decide who is worthy to live or die?
Again, my physician’s face lite up. “Free will, you said free will, but what about in the times of slavery? They had no free will. They were ruled by their masters. What of the slave woman who was raped by her master…she had no free will. What if she became pregnant by that master, what will become of her baby? What if she knew that giving birth to that baby meant that each day her child would be abused and beaten? Why would she want to bring that child into the world…neither she nor the child had free will or the opportunity to change their lives.” I must say, this man is thinking. He is truly seeking the truth and his questions are solid and important. His heart is searching for goodness and fairness in life. My reply went something like this, “Again, I cannot argue the misery of many life situations. Slavery was deplorable and the treatment slaves received should make us all profoundly ashamed. What of the woman in slavery and her free will. Free will does not need to be limited by those we are accountable to (we all have masters, even today), or our ability to move from place to place, or our lack of entitlements, etc. Free will is our attitude towards life and life circumstances. For instance, our abused slave could view her situation in light of the hard work she did, the misery of her master’s advances, the fear of what would happen to the child she could give birth to…too little to eat, nothing to wear, no comfortable living, just a life with only misery and no choices. We could not blame her, could we? Let’s look back at our own lives. Each of us has experienced pain, sorrow, loss, unexpected crises. We are not immune, no perfect life is attainable and we are all slaves to something or someone. How do we reconcile this? Attitude! Perhaps if we look deeper into our slave’s heart rather than her situation, she was grateful for the food provided each day, appreciative to be busy and occupied with each days’ chores, accepting and even rejoicing at bringing a new life into the world. What of her prospective child’s life??? Like our abused and abandoned little boy who became a fireman, we can bloom where we are planted.
The man who taught me about free will and attitude was a fellow whose parents never discussed that kidney disease was prevalent in his family. It was not until his brother died in his twenties that brought out this family secret. My friend discovered in his early thirties that both of his kidneys had failed. He had one young daughter. His wife, an amazing person herself, went to work each day to help support them and pay ever-expanding medical expenses. Several evenings a week after work she would finish dinner chores, help her daughter with homework and put her child to bed. She would then connect her husband to a dialysis machine that would run most of the night to cleanse his blood. In those years it required vigilant monitoring of the machine in case of operational failure, and certain death. There were no beeping lights or buzzers to let anyone know if there was a problem, so she sat next to him for hours, awake and alert after an already long work day. Her stamina was amazing. More so, I was in awe of how loving and appreciative these two people were. When I would ask how she could put in such long and stressful days, she would respond with gratitude that they were able to have this machine in their home so that she did not have to travel to the hospital for his care and grateful for each day they had together. He was a beacon of hope daily. Never whining about his circumstances, but rejoicing for everyday and every experience. He was hospitalized as much as he was at home. The strain and stress that encompassed these touch and go, life or death experiences, shakes me to my roots just recalling them. He finally received a kidney transplant. A miracle at best in those days when organ donations were not readily available. The transplant failed within the year. It was the kiss of death…unheard of for a second donation to occur. However, these two people moved forward with their day to day lives with joy and thanksgiving. In addition, they gave whatever they could to others. Love and charity were their priority. Then the impossible happened. Another kidney donation became available. A teenage girl had been killed in a car accident and her medical criteria matched his need. He was always witty and ready to make people smile, but this time it was his smile that warmed our hearts. He was in prayer of thanks for this remarkable gift, but also grieved over the life of this young girl who had lost her life providing him with another chance to live. He had always desired that his life would have meaning, no matter how long or short his days. Well, his life had profound meaning. He impacted everyone he saw. He told of God’s love and how our difficult circumstances can be used to help others. He knew how precious life was and that every moment should be appreciated and filled with hope. He touched the lives of the doctors, the nurses, the patients and the patients’ visitors. For those of us fortunate enough to be in his daily life, we also began to view everything differently. My friend lived with pain and uncertainty, trapped by a failing body the majority of his life. His circumstances were different, and yet parallel to the slave and her perspective child. Neither chose their predicaments, nor had control over their conditions, but it was possible for both of them, regardless of their situations, to experience through their “free will,” peace and joy. Free will does not mean we control our circumstances. Free will means how we respond in those circumstances. We will all live with our own binding chains (and each of us is keenly aware of the “masters” in our lives), but what will our heart attitude be in our situations? As a side note, my friend secretly wished he could see his daughter graduate from high school. This was rather a BIG wish considering the short life-span of anyone with a transplant. Among so many other complications for the recipient of a transplanted organ, the body is constantly trying to reject “the foreign object” in their bodies, and medications administered to ward off rejection (which carried its own list of complications.) dictated nothing but a short life-span. However, I say with joy, that my friend not only lived to see his daughter graduate high school, but also college, marriage and the birth of his three grandsons. What happiness and love this man experienced, and gave back to so very many. His life choices, even in such a grim and painful setting, by virtue of his attitude and example, not only inspired others to re-evaluate their position in life, but enriched his life as well.
We can truly have a fulfilling life no matter the burdens we endure. God does not make mistakes! Every life has a purpose. Every life has value. Every life is important. We are created by God and He gives us free will allowing us the opportunity to determine our path, but we need to be warry of the fact that our choices may bring consequences. Would the world have been a better place without the lives of the fireman and the kidney patient, the five children who became doctors and lawyers, and countless others who are daily unsung heroes? We have not been given the right to take away the opportunity for life from anyone. Right now a mother carries a child who seems like an inconvenience, or a burden, or even a tragedy. However dreadful the mother’s conditions may appear at the moment, she has the opportunity to choose positive life alternatives. Once she decides to abort, the doors are permanently closed to any options and the loss of that tiny new life, with so much promise, will be a permanent injustice to mother and child. Ultimately, the consequences will not be a solution to the situation, but will create a different chaos.
Science has proven that life begins at fertilization of the egg. We cannot reduce our guilt for taking a life from that point of conception, any less than when a fully developed baby is broken to pieces and cut into parts to remove it from its mother’s womb. Perhaps it is time for us all to look closely at our reality. We just passed the 14th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks on our country where nearly 3,000 innocent lives were unnecessarily lost. We will continue to mourn and commemorate this horrific loss from year to year. We were appalled as a nation, united in support, and universally saddened and we will pass this memory on to our children and our children’s children so we do not forget the reverence for the sanctity of life. However, were you also aware that we as a nation, on the same day we were mourning the unnecessary loss of the 3,000 victims of terrorism, we were terrorizing 3,000 more undeserving victims by butchering and killing them before they saw the light of day. We have killed nearly 14.5 MILLION babies since 9/11/01… our own most innocent and vulnerable. Yet are we appalled as a nation? Do we mourn this unnecessary loss of life? Will we unite in preventing further attacks of terrorism on the defenseless? Will we commemorate these tiny unfulfilled lives year after year, and pass on to our children and our children’s children this tragic loss of lives so that we do not forget our reverence for the sanctity of life?
So, my dear doctor, thank you for our discussion. By asking your good questions perhaps we have revived the hope and love of others and opened the door, if only a crack, for them to be enlightened by our opportunity to talk. Not by arguing our opinions, but by sharing the love of our fellow man, the precious gift of life and how sacred it is, and the promise of true peace and joy found in the real purpose and meaning of free will in our lives.
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