I recently underwent a procedure. A prostate biopsy. Looking for cancer. I’m not a whiner, but the words that came to mind to describe it are painful and degrading. And, yes, I’m that old.
The nurse asked my name, birthdate, and what procedure I was there for. “Biopsy,” I said. Had I known they were only going to use a local anesthetic, lidocaine, I would have said, “eye exam” and walked out unscathed. Any procedure that begins with—“Undress from the waste down and cover yourself with this” (the nurse handed me a long, crinkly piece of paper) “It’s kind of like a sheet.”—can only go to hell from there. “The doctor will be in in a minute.”
I think they have you undress at that stage so you can’t escape.
I waited with the paper that was nothing like a sheet covering my nakedness. Is this the last time I will think of myself as cancer free?
The doctor sidled in followed by the nurse. He was kind and caring and professional; explained everything clearly. He snapped on blue rubber gloves. “Sorry,” he apologized as he probed.
After administering the lidocaine he said, “Tell me if the needle hurts. It will make a clicking sound.” It didn’t hurt— really—if feeling something like a clothespin snapping inside you is not pain. Twelve clicks of the clothespin, twelve samples. I guess it’s hard to locate cancerous cells, if you happen to have any. Which I pray I don’t!
“Click,” the doctor said as a signal for the needle clicking and capturing its sample. I flinched. I lay there worried about the future. Prostate cancer is supposedly very treatable. But how would I know? What would it cost?
“Click.” Two, I counted, simultaneously thankful for modern medicine and horrified. That they can discover and potentially treat a hidden cancer is nigh on miraculous. Men in the past simply suffered and died from prostate cancer. Today there is hope. Modern science can perform modern miracles.
“Click.” But they are bootleg, different in quality and flavor from a pure God miracle. The thing that sets our miracles apart from God’s is how clumsily we humans perform them.
“Click.” Four. On my side with my bum and more exposed, I felt (literally) how barbarous modern medical science still is in many ways. We use gloves, needles, knives, and drugs with no guarantee of success. Our miracles are invasive. The recovery often more grueling than the disease. If you have had any kind of procedure, you know of what I speak.
“Click.” Is this the one that will show cancer?
I’m not a miracle snob. I’ll take them as they come. I am grateful for the many times God has used modern medicine to deliver a miracle in my life. In 2015 I had a heart attack while in a doctor’s office hooked up to an EKG. God and science saved my life that day.
“Click. Is that six?” the doctor asked. Yes! Yes! It’s six!
In his novel, Peace Like a River, Leif Enger calls God’s miracles “Real miracles.” Enger writes, “They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in.” They defy any—or at least—easy explanation. How I wound up in a clinic surrounded by doctors and nurses before I had a heart attack may be more of the miracle than the medical treatment that kept me alive.
“Click.” Seven. Five more. Oh.
And God’s miracles–rather than being invasive and impersonal–are intimate. New Testament writer and physician Luke tells us: “When the sun went down, everyone who had anyone sick with some ailment or other brought them to [Jesus]. One by one he placed his hands on them and healed them.” (Luke 4:40 The Message) Jesus healed in intimate ways.
Once Jesus used spit and made mud to heal a blind man. Not very sophisticated. Usually he simply touched them or spoke to them. Jesus never donned a glove or that professional distance modern healers use. God is not a stranger as doctors often are, asking your name and birthdate to ensure they are with the right patient. God already knows these things. And more. Being known, being intimately cared for in life and death medical situations is often missing in a doctor’s office. It is never missing with the Great Physician. God even speaks through human physicians.
With the pain of a hippopotamus sitting on my chest, dragging air and hope into my lungs, I heard my doctor say, “In our parents’ day this would have been fatal. You’re only six minutes away from the cath lab. You’ll be much better after they take care of you.”
I still knew I could die in six minutes. But somehow I believed I wouldn’t. Not because I was six minutes away from a cath lab. But because God spoke through that doctor. There was no way that doctor could have known that in 1969 my father had died of the very same heart attack I was having. Back then medical science was even more limited in delivering miracles than today. But God knew and spoke directly to my fear.
“Click.” Not that facing God naked and—sometimes—ashamed is not invasive. A paper sheet will cover nothing in God’s sight. God sees into crevasses where even MRIs and Ultrasounds cannot. God has revealed to me over and over how my stress and worry are precursors to my many physical ailments.
“Fear not for I am with you,” God has said again and again. I have seen my fear shrink in light of God’s presence.
And God’s persistent truth has slowly healed wounds and lies and attitudes that—like cancer—carry seeds of illness.
“Click.” Otherwise, I’ve not experienced a pure God miracle. I don’t think. Did my seizures from a childhood concussion disappear at about age seventeen like the doctors said they might because my brain grew and the scar on my skull pressing on my brain did not? Or did God simply stop them?
I’ll never know.
It seems to me the main difference between pure God miracles and modern medicine miracles is the difference between a child’s beautiful rendering of a starry night and Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece. We wield our brush as best we can. God even guides our chubby, untrained hands in the work. But the difference between master and student is obvious. By God’s grace we continue to learn and grow.
“Click.” Eleven, eleven!
“Click.” Ah. Thank you, God.
These are the things I occupied myself with while I endured modern science working a possible miracle. I know—I’m weird. I desperately needed the distraction. God works in mysterious ways. The Incarnation is more than an abstract theology of God in flesh in Jesus, Emmanuel. A mere Christmas tale. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Incarnation is the reality that God enters our imperfections—our childlike art—and uses them to be with us, to heal us, to speak to us. Even in the doctor’s office.
God is intimately involved in our lives, even or especially in the pain. Sometimes it takes something drastic and uncomfortable to make me see.P.S. Several days after my procedure the doctor called and told me I am clear. No cancer! “Click!”