God in Mr. Foley's I.V.
As I walked through the snow covered parking lot
into the hospital building, the place was strangely vacant. The hospital was a lonely place during the
break between Christmas and New Year's.
The house staff had vanished for the holiday, and as the medical student
on call, I was left behind to care for the sick and dying on the sixth floor
medical ward at the University of Illinois Hospital.
My patient for the week, Mr. Foley, was dying. His failing liver would last for a few more
days at the most. What had caused his
failing liver? I don’t recall and it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it was alcohol toxicity, perhaps
something else. I entered the room with
a fresh bag of saline for his IV line and found him sitting up in bed. His jaundiced eyes gazed out the window past
the parking lot to the ice covered tree branches.
His yellow, green skin was thin and fragile from
chronic wasting. At the bedside, his tray of hospital food was untouched. The room had been cleaned by the hospital
staff, yet still emanated a distinctive aroma of ammonia, bile, and fecal
residue. The whole ward smelled like
that. Foley knew he was dying. And I
knew that he knew, yet he seemed in good spirits. As I examined his two arms for a suitable
vein to restart his failed I.V. line, Foley struck up a conversation.
“Doc, he said,
do you believe in God? “
I confessed to Mr. Foley that I had my doubts about
it. After four years of studying science
in college and a year of medical school, I had drifted into agnosticism. Science could not demonstrate the existence
of God, and since I could not see, touch or feel God in this material world of
science, how could I be sure of God’s existence?
“No, Doc, you
are wrong”, said Mr. Foley. “There is a
God, I know it.”
I looked into his sad, yellow eyes and asked back, “How do you know”?
Mr. Foley’s emaciated face revealed a sincerity and
wisdom that I had rarely seen. He said.
“It is obvious. I just know that’s all.”
The IV needle found its vein easily, and the light
glistened from the droplets of saline as they dripped into the chamber under
the bag, and then into Mr. Foley. My
task completed, I returned to the nursing station for my next assignment.
That small conversation about God with Mr. Foley
marked the beginning of a drastic change in how I looked at the world. I learned a very important thing from Mr.
Foley. He did not merely believe that
God existed, he knew it. That was 35
years ago, and I still remember as if it was yesterday. Mr. Foley died ten days later of liver
Above Left Image : Intravenous (IV) bag courtesy of Wikimedia
Articles with Related interest:
Signature in a Cell, Aging, and DIsease
Saying Thank You for a Trillion Cells
Finding God in Mr Foley's IV
Author: Jeffrey Dach MD