A few years ago, as I stepped to a sales register, the message on my t-shirt garnered a big, sweet smile from the young clerk. She was mouthing the words half-out-loud, reading the pink writing on white cotton which celebrated the birth of twin girls who hadn’t weighed three pounds between them when they arrived, far too soon.
Sixteen weeks premature – “micro preemies,” they are called – my newborn nieces were barely viable, but after 104 days in the NICU, where they had been nursed by an assortment of million-dollar machines and PICC lines dripping multisyllabic medical cocktails, not just mother’s milk, they both had gone home with their parents, healthy and happy.
So, I gladly joined the sales clerk’s celebration, saying: “Yes, they are miracles of modern science!” Just that quickly, her smile disappeared. She seemed to be processing my words with an equal mix of confusion and offense, which changed the smile into a subtle sneer. As she repeated the words under her breath, her inflection rose to a final, judgmental pitch: “Miracles of modern… (she paused) science?”
She turned up her lip and rolled her eyes away from me. When she handed me my change and the merchandise, there was no friendly, “Thanks for shopping!” She seemed glad to see me go, and I could tell as I walked away that she was saddened by this confrontation with one of those – no, not one of those Baptist ministers, but a godless secularist.
I knew what she was thinking: If they were “miracles” at all, they were miracles of God.
“For too many, there’s no need for conversation; it’s either God or science, miracles or medicine.”
I would love to have stayed for a theological conversation, but I didn’t have time, and I’ve seen that look before. Somehow I don’t think my theology would have been very welcomed. For too many, there’s no need for conversation; it’s either God or science, miracles or medicine.
We’ve got to rethink that.
Last week a cloud appeared in my left eye, occluding about a quarter of my field of vision. I wiped my eye repeatedly but couldn’t clear the cloud, so the next day I made an appointment.
A few days later at the outpatient surgery center a talkative nurse anesthetist named Matt wheeled me into a cold, ophthalmological operating room and administered narcotics. “I’ve never been high,” I said as some frigid spirit raced from my left wrist through the rest of my body, “but this is great!” With that, a white coat appeared over me, and a dark-skinned immigrant with “M.D.” behind his name placed two fingers below my left eye, wiggled them around, and said, “You’ll feel a little stick and some pressure.”
I asked if he’d inserted that hypodermic into my optic nerve, and he gave me a medically-circumspect, “Not exactly. . .” Then he said, “Now, no more questions. I need you to be still!” So I shifted from curious student to fascinated observer – but lay there fully conscious for the next 60 exciting minutes, enthralled by every feeling and listening to every word spoken above me: “Laser… Let’s use some cryo… We’re done.”
They had obviously injected some kind of really cool drugs into my IV, because I was “cool-as-a-cuke” for that hour, lying there taking mental notes as the doctor with the thick accent cut three incisions in my left eye and inserted some nifty little tools.
With those tools in my eyeball, they sucked out all the eye-juice (though, I don’t think that’s what they call it in medical school). The doctor then used a microscopic laser to “spot weld” the retina of my left eye to repair a detachment with a slight tear. Finally, he re-inflated my eyeball with an inert gas called “SF4.” It’s lighter than oxygen so it rises against the retina, forcing it against the back of the eye, and remains in the eye long enough for the retina to adhere organically. Then it just dissipates, clearing your eye to its original vision.
“Today, my doctor does three or four such miracles, with predictable, reliable success, every day.”
A miracle of modern science.
God has always brought life where there is no life and given sight to the blind. That’s what God is – life – and the ability literally and figuratively to “see the light.”
For most of human history that little cloud in my eye would have grown, mysteriously, until there was no vision at all. No one would have known what was happening or why. I suppose there have been some one-in-a-zillion anomalies (after some unexplained loss of vision, a “Look… I can see!”), but until just recently, no one has been able to fix such blindness.
Today, my doctor does three or four such miracles, with predictable, reliable success, every day.
As recently as about 20 years ago, had my nieces been born so premature, there would have been no hope; we would have just had a tearful funeral and accompanied two tiny caskets to the cemetery. It’s not that God cared any less about eyes or “micro preemies” in prior generations, but medical science has only recently learned to harness these aspects of God’s creativity and healing power.
I took God with me into the operating room yesterday, and I coveted all the prayers that accompanied me. I strode into my doctor’s office with a faith-filled calm, trusting that come what may, God would be with me. But, as a product of this generation, I also bore the confidence that in a few days I will see, quite literally, yet another miracle – the miracle of modern science.
Thanks be to God.