I looked down on little three-year-old Tessa as she lay semiconscious,
struggling to breathe.
There is something doubly distressing about a critically ill child.
Adults in a life-threatening state arouse a sense of urgency and
compassion, but on seeing a desperately ill child something rises
up wanting to protect; to shield an innocent life from the harsh
realities of a fallen world. Such were my feelings as I examined
Tessa. Her ribcage rocked in and out from weakened muscles
with each breath, which gurgled through secretions accumulating
in her breathing passages. Beside her bed her distraught mother
stared unseeing at the monitors, feeling the helplessness of
watching while everything was out of her control and in the
hands of the attending doctors.
Tessa and John, her older brother by one year, had been playing
in the garage at home. They were having a tea party for their
toys. They had set out the tea set and teddy and the dolls were
sitting around drinking invisible tea from the teacups. The
children were joining in drinking from their cups, but it was not
realistic enough for little John. They needed some real tea to
drink. He found some liquid in the garage, poured it into his
sister’s cup and gave it to her to drink. It was deadly insecticide!
As the poison swept through Tessa's body it targeted the heart,
slowing it down and threatening to stop it in a cardiac arrest.
It latched onto her muscles which started twitching and then
became progressively weaker. Slowly Tessa was becoming
paralyzed, impairing her ability to breathe. The toxic molecules
attached themselves to her salivary glands making them pour
out saliva that threatened to suffocate her.
I debated whether or not to put her on a ventilator — not a step
to be taken lightly with a little child. The tube that one places
in the child’s trachea has such a small diameter that it can easily
block with secretions, cutting off the air supply altogether. I
needed to know that it was absolutely necessary before taking
I considered that, although Tessa was in trouble, she was just
managing on the maximum dose of antidote that the pediatrician
had given her. I had an appendectomy scheduled for an hour’s
time. I would reassess her after that. If necessary, we could
ventilate her then. A thought nudged forward from the back of
my mind that I should pray with her but I pushed it back. The
doctors and nurses were so busy with her and, besides, if I left
now I would have time to get home and have lunch before coming
back for the appendectomy.
As I got into my car the sense that I should have prayed for her
grew stronger. Still I ignored it, but all the way home, my mind
was filled with one thought, “I should have prayed with her. I
should pray with her...”
I pulled into the driveway of my home but I could bear it no
longer. I turned around and drove straight back to the hospital.
I have noticed that sometimes when we disobey God and then
repent and do what He is prompting, it is even harder the second
time. It is as though He is testing our resolve. Such was the case
as I returned. Conditions were not conducive to earnest prayer
for Tessa as I entered the ICU. The distressed mother and her
sister were there, talking animatedly. Tessa was, if anything,
a little worse and the nurse was busy attending to her. I had to
interrupt them all.
“Excuse me,” I interjected into the mother's conversation, “I am
a committed Christian and I would like to say a prayer for Tessa
and ask God to heal her.”
I was unprepared for the reaction. The mother started crying
hysterically and began stroking her child. The aunt was trying
to comfort the mother and adding to the noise as I laid my hand
on the child and tried to pray. I did not feel very spiritual at all.
It was an effort to concentrate. All I could do was to lay my hand
on Tessa and stammer out some jumbled words above the
surrounding chaos, “Dear God, I ask ... er ... I ask You ... uuh ...
I know You love children. Please ... er ... (I cannot think) please
heal Tessa in Jesus’ Name.”
With that I hastily left to anesthetize my patient for his
appendectomy. All the way through the appendix operation
my mind was on Tessa.
“What a disastrous time.” I thought. “I didn't have a chance to
pray properly. I felt nothing. I didn’t have a chance to get into
any deep prayer.” But I did feel better for having been obedient
and having at least made an attempt to pray.
With the appendectomy finally over and the patient awake
and settled in the recovery room, I hastened through to the ICU.
I was met at the door by two very excited nurses.
“Come and see!” they said, jumping up and down as they ushered
me into the room.