A pause for prayer at life’s end

Posted on February 20, 2012 by VMMissions Staff

My patient was a young man with right leg swelling of several weeks’ duration. He had a large abscess in his thigh that pressed on the large vein nearby, causing it to clot off. Clots of this nature are dangerous, because they can break loose and travel to the heart and lungs, which can be fatal. The patient needed anticoagulation medicine to prevent the clot from getting bigger.

But a problem intervened. He vomited blood. I looked in his stomach with a scope and found a large ulcer and evidence of recent bleeding. So now we have a dilemma. He needs blood-thinner medication to treat the leg clot, but the medicines will make it much more likely that he will have a fatal bleed from his stomach ulcer.

In the West, we immediately stop the blood thinner and place a “filter” in the large vein leading up through the body towards the heart to catch any clots on their way to the lung. I looked in our donated store and actually found a few filters. Shall I use up a rare resource? I decided to stop his blood-thinning drugs, treat the ulcer with medicine and wait until the following Monday to repeat the ultrasound study.

On Friday morning, I found myself with extra time for making rounds. When I came to my patient’s bed, I took time to ask him about his relationship with Christ and whether he was ready to face eternity. He honestly admitted that he was familiar with Christianity, but was not “saved.”

I was tempted to order a chaplain consult and move on, but after briefly explaining the gospel to my patient, I asked if he wanted to pray to invite Christ into his life. Again, I tried to give myself an “out.” I told him I could ask the chaplains to come by and he could pray with them, but mentioned that he could pray with us right then if he wanted. He indicated that he was ready to pray.

We paused on our rounds. I prayed in English and my patient in his native tongue, before moving on to our other patients.

The next morning, he was not in his bed. “Where is my patient?” I listened to the explanation with a growing thankfulness that we’d spent time with him the previous morning. He developed chest pain during the night. The nurse put him on oxygen, restarted his IV, and promised to check on him in a few minutes. When she returned, he was already dead. I suspect a fatal pulmonary embolism.

Was his prayer a true reflection of a repentant heart born from above with a gift of faith? Will I see my patient again in Heaven? God only knows. I can only say that the experience left me wondering about my hesitation to turn this privileged work of gospel presentation and praying to the chaplains. I am humbled, thankful, and emboldened with a sense of the urgency of eternity.



Harry Kraus performs a patient checkup. Courtesy of author

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