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Early on Tuesday morning I headed for the local Naval Hospital. I promised my girlfriend I would be there before and during her surgery to pray and provide support.
Lisa was told only four days earlier that she needed a “radical modified mastectomy” to treat a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Her life depended on it. Sadly, she separated from her husband earlier this year and hasn’t many friends or family living nearby.
Only a few people seemed to be available to help. Her mother flew in to watch and care for her two sons, ages 10 and 12. Her brother-in-law (a real good-guy) took over the role of getting her to the hospital. Then there was me.
I recently met Lisa at church. We had lunch one afternoon and became instant friends. Naturally, when news of her surgery came, I assured her I would be on hand.
So at 7:30 a.m., I jumped in my car and entered into the world of early-morning rush hour traffic to an unfamiliar destination – not a good combination for me. I thought I gave myself plenty of time – nearly an hour for what should have taken 30 minutes. I was wrong.
Obviously, a more seasoned commuter would have tripled the anticipated time. I was stuck at every light and corner. I was cut off (and surely cut off others) as I bobbed, weaved and jockeyed for position into the appropriate turning lanes.
I have to admit one person laid on his horn at me. In response I uttered a few words that reminded me of my Jersey roots. (I just didn’t recognize the line a mile back from the exit was the very line I needed to be in.)
You know, most people are not particularly inclined to let you cut in line when they have been waiting 15 minutes to access an on-ramp. And with no sign on my car identifying me as a student driver, few were offering me any special courtesy. So like everyone else, I had to just nose my way into position.
Lisa’s surgery was scheduled for 8:30. At 8:30 on the dot, I was at the military gate getting my visitor’s pass. I had yet to park and navigate the expansive hospital facilities. Her brother-in-law did give me directions the night before, but they were somewhat lacking to put it politely.
So there I was with my nine-month pregnant belly – waddling through a hospital parking lot at top speed of, oh, I’d say 2 miles an hour. With what was surely a frantic look on my face, I just kept praying: “Please let me get their in time to say a prayer for her and the surgeons.” I wanted her to know I was there just as I promised I would be.
Fortunately, some of the military personnel helped direct me to the right location. Even with their assistance, it took me another 15-20 minutes and a lot of luck to get to the right pre-op area.
When I arrived, I asked for Lisa through a glass window. The nurse checked her list and motioned to me with a “just-one-minute” finger in the air. Then she disappeared behind a curtain. Seconds later she poked her head outside the doorway to my right and waived me in. Pointing to a gurney100 feet away, she indicated where Lisa sat with brother-in-law, doctors and nurses standing all around.
Having lost too much time to be shy, I rushed to her side. She looked up and smiled with noticeable appreciation and relief on her face. She quickly introduced me to people who were only listening because of the commotion I made with my entrance.
I didn’t look to notice their response. I simply blurted out “thank you, Jesus.” I announced to her and everyone within earshot: “The good news is your prayer warrior has arrived; the bad news is I lost my religion on the way.” It made her laugh. But recognizing there was no more time to lose, I said, “Let’s pray.”
I broke into a short, directed prayer. It wasn’t very eloquent, but as I prayed, I noticed an immediate silence throughout the pre-op area. When I was done, I also noticed every nurse and doctor as well as her brother-in-law had bowed their heads. With that she was whisked away for four to five hours of surgery.
As I made my way to the waiting room, I prayed silently a prayer of thanks that I arrived “in time.” The surgery went well, but there is a long recover ahead followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
You can be sure I will be praying for and supporting her the entire way. Will my prayers make a difference? Can religion slow cancer? Reduce depression? Or speed recovery from surgery? Can belief in God possibly delay death?
The research results appear mixed, making the use of prayer to affect health one of the most controversial subjects in medicine. Stayed tuned next week for breaking studies on the effects of spirituality on medicine and the science of prayer.