Monday, May 21, 2012

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With scalpel and the sword

Dr. Troy del Mundo, medical director of Bethel Baptist Hospital, required us to read With Scalpel and the Sword: An American Doctor's Odyssey in the Philippines, an autobiography by Dr. Lincoln Nelson, who established the hospital in 1955. The exercise was meant to give us a deeper appreciation of Bethel and its roots.

And I didn't mind at all. I've always liked the idea of being forced to read books; at least I had an excuse to finish yet another piece of non-medical literature.

The book begins with a chapter entitled, “Pigs is Pigs,” which tells the story about a Manobo hunter who was gored by a wild boar. After a four-hour drive and more than an hour of hiking in the jungles, Dr. Nelson's team reached the hunter's dwelling. There they saw the man—his wound bound up by cloth, chewed guava leaves plugged into his chest cavity, and bystanders crowded into the room. He wrote,
I cleared away the debris, thoroughly cleaned the wound and closed with layers of stuture. After the chest was closed, I withdrew most of the air trapped in the cavity through a large syringe. We didn't dare leave a chest tube in place to drain off any further collection of fluid or air as is usually done. Who would follow up on its care? We injected a generous dose of penicillin intramuscularly and bandaged the chest with a sterile dressing. We asked the Lord to spare his life, then returned him to his mat in the corner.
I wish I had met Dr. Nelson in the flesh. From what I have read, he must have been a kind man who loved the Lord above all. Listening to him relate his stories must have been quite an experience. I would've wanted to sit beside him in the clinics. To me, he sounded like someone who was a joy to work with, brimming with wit and humor. What did he say to President Emilio Aguinaldo during their first meeting? What was going on in his mind when he rushed to the mountains to attend to the Manobo hunter who was wounded by a wild boar? I would've thrown him these questions, and he would've indulged me in his recollections.

His stories, especially about the Manobo hunter, showed that he was alert, astute, and creative. He was also mindful of the cultural traditions. He had a compassionate heart, seeing his patients as people made up of mind, body, and spirit. He had foresight. He trusted in the Lord in everything. He shared the gospel unashamedly.

After I flipped the last pages of the book, I realized I wanted to be like him. Reading biographies does that to me: I see in someone a trait that I lack, and I experience discontent at my present state. I then rush to pray that the Spirit accomplish His work in me to help me become more Christ-like. I am, after all, pretty much God's work in progress.

It was Dr. Nelson's vision to establish a local, mission-oriented hospital that will preach the Word and heal the sick. Since then the hospital has expanded to become a major trusted health facility in the province. Many doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who, at one point, served in Bethel have shared in Dr. Nelson's vision. To this day, Bethel remains a powerful testament to the labors of a man who was initially entrusted with little, but who labored joyfully for the expansion of his Master's kingdom. All the glory belongs to God.

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