Called to trust
‘Martin Thomson.’ I was called from the Day Surgery waiting room by a cheerful nurse, who explained that I would be taken to a waiting area where all the surgery patients were gathered together. After checking my details, she handed me a bag, a gown and a pair of paper pants. ‘If you use one of the cubicles, undress and place your clothes and belongings in the bag and then put on the gown and the paper pants,’ she explained.
She was the nurse, both kind and competent, with the training and expertise I lacked. If she told me to wear paper pants then it seemed reasonable to trust her at her word. I duly undressed, placed my clothes in the bag, and donned my gown, together with the aforementioned paper pants. I then took a seat in yet another waiting room joining a small group of men, similarly wearing their gowns, and clutching plastic bags of belongings, like forlorn refugees. I assume they, too, were wearing paper pants. There we were, a group of grown men who had been told by a young nurse to wear paper pants and we did so without a murmur.
I settled into reading a novel, and, despite my nerves, I managed to lose myself in its plot line, oblivious to the relentless movement and bustle of a modern hospital.
‘Martin Thomson.’ I was wrenched from the imaginary world of my book by the calling of my name yet again. The young man clutching my notes turned out to be the anaesthetist. He would be responsible for knocking me out. He beckoned me to follow him into a side room, where he explained his role in the surgery.
A mischievous part of me wanted to ask him how anaesthetics worked. Mischievous because, amazing as it seems, the operation of anaesthetics is not fully understood. For all our scientific and technological achievement, consciousness is not well understood and so, neither, is unconsciousness. However, this young man was clearly another skilled professional, with all the benefits of generations of experience in the use of anaesthetics, and so I trust that he is perfectly capable of ensuring that I not only sleep during the operation, but that I have a fighting chance of waking up again.
I answer all his questions. I trust him to do things I don’t understand, for the benefit of my health. I trust him to do as he says, and deliver on his expertise. He says I will waken after the operation and remember nothing of it. I take him at his word, and I do as he says.
I duly return to the waiting room, where I immerse myself in my novel, set among the Jewish community in Brooklyn towards the end of World War 2.
‘Martin Thomson.’ My name is called again, and I am pulled from the imaginary world of the author, Chaim Potok, to the real world of Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock. This time it is the surgeon’s lips which form my name. I follow him to another office, where he chats to me about what he plans to do. We discuss which of the many swollen glands in my neck should be selected for removal, and subsequent biopsy. The most prominent is identified and, happily, it is also the most accessible, thus its removal is least likely to interfere with any facial nerves. He then takes marker pens and marks on my neck where he will cut.
I sign a piece of paper, allowing this total stranger to take a knife to my neck, an area where there are some rather important veins to be found, not least those of the jugular variety. Yet I trust him. I trust he is the well-qualified, trained, skilful and experienced surgeon I assumed him to be when he called my name and introduced himself.
As I return to the waiting room, I return the unexpected, yet friendly, smiles from passing nurses and patients alike, until I realise they are responding with humour to the surgical roadmap that now decorates my neck, courtesy of the surgeon’s marker pen.
Back to my book, back to 1940’s Brooklyn, and back to the story of a remarkable friendship between two Jewish boys from different sides of the orthodox-Hasidic divide.
‘Martin Thomson.’ My name again. This is the final call. A nurse leads me into the recovery room, to where, she explains, I shall return post-surgery. After answering the usual identity questions, she invites me to follow her to theatre. I trust her, and follow on behind her through several doors, along a short corridor and then through a door marked ‘Theatre 1’. I found myself surprised at the idea of walking into a Theatre to have surgery. The anaesthetist is leaning against a cupboard chatting to others on the team. I recall envying him his relaxed demeanour. I am invited to climb up onto the trolley (or is it a gurney?) Everything they do is explained as they do it. Various monitors are attached to me. They find suitable veins to pump various chemicals into me. I can feel the nurse working on my hand and arm. This is how the anaesthetic will enter my body. The anaesthetist also explains that he will put pain-control chemicals into me and that the surgeon will additionally inject something for pain relief during surgery. They will also rehydrate me through this line, since I have drunk nothing since the previous night.
I let them do all these things to me. I trust them to do as they say and accomplish what they promise, despite my nerves and fears. As an adult, I have never been put to sleep, and curiously, it is being anaesthetised that worries me more than the surgery. These people have shown themselves competent and have done this countless times before. They know what they are doing and are capable of dealing with anything that goes wrong. They called my name, and I trusted them.
An oxygen mask is placed over my face. ‘Just breathe normally.’
‘I’m putting some pain relief in now. Shortly after that I’ll put in the anaesthetic. Keep your eyes open as long as you can.’
My eyes blink open. I am astonished to realise that the surgery is completed. The tiredness and discomfort suggest this is the recovery room and not heaven. One moment the anaesthetist was telling me what he was doing and then I open my eyes after surgery. Many of you reading this will have gone through exactly this. Amazing.
I was given to wonder if that is what the experience of death will be like, at the end, a closing of the eyes and, ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ opening them in heaven. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
It has since occurred to me that I spent the entire day listening to my name being called, instinctively trusting the various medical professionals who called me and then following their instructions and placing my life in their hands. I heard my name called and I trusted my life to them. Many of you have done exactly the same. You have trusted your life to complete strangers.
Isn’t that a picture of Christian conversion and faith? Is that not what happened to Mary at the empty tomb on that first Easter Sunday? Mary seems to have returned to the tomb a second time, her first visit being with Mary the mother of James and Joanna. She is clearly grief-stricken at the loss of Jesus and is drawn to return. It is then that she is confronted by the angel, who asks her why she is looking for Jesus in the wrong place, among the dead, when He is alive. Like the other disciples, she doesn’t take it in, and a few moments later when she meets the risen Lord Jesus she mistakes Him for the gardener.
The thing that triggered the transformation in Mary was hearing her name. Jesus spoke her name. ‘Mary’. As soon as she heard the voice of the risen Christ, she knew exactly who it was, and in that moment everything clarified. She heard her name and recognised in Jesus the One to whom she could trust her life.
Jesus had earlier said: ‘The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’
The one word which remade her life and delivered her from her despondency and despair was her own name. Jesus called her name, her eyes were opened and she trusted Him. There was a whole world of meaning in that personal call, as Jesus dealt personally with Mary. This was an encounter with One who knew and cared for her intimately.
The important thing to grasp is that Jesus deals personally with each of His children. Jesus deals with us today on a personal basis. He calls us to trust Him.
Have you heard Him calling your name and drawing you to trust in Him? Have you felt that tug from another world, awakening interests in the things of Christ, and stirring previously dormant sensitivities to the Gospel? If so, you need to turn and trust. Trust Him with your life. Trust Him to take away all your sins, cleanse you from your guilt and shame and bring you into a new Life.