While attending school at Brigham Young University I obtained employment as an Operating Room orderly at a local hospital. It was one of the most interesting jobs I have ever had. It was my privilege to pick up patients in their rooms and transport them to the OR and, after surgery, take them to Recovery and then back to their rooms. Being the low man on the proverbial totem pole, I was to assist the doctors, nurses and just about everybody else with anything they might need. In short, I was the general OR “go-fer”—and I loved it!
Not having a lot of responsibility, it was a low stress job and I was able to rub shoulders with knowledgeable medical personnel and ask lots of questions. I enjoyed talking with patients and their families and I met a lot of interesting people. When I wasn’t too busy I was allowed to stand in the background and observe the surgical teams at work.
I watched complex back operations, exploratory laparotomies, cesarean sections and amputations. I once carried an amputated limb to the lab. I saw surgery performed on eyes, ears, veins, skin, digestive systems and urinary tracts. Most outcomes were positive and gave cause for eventual smiles—but not all.
One day I picked up a big man at the main entrance to the hospital and wheeled him into the OR to have casts removed from both legs. He had been a football player and had had work done on both knees. It was time to remove the casts. Shortly after the plaster was cut away he went into cardiac arrest. It seems that while he was seated in his wheelchair, unable to walk, blood clots had formed in his legs. They were launched into his blood stream the moment his limbs were straightened out.
A team of doctors, several nurses and specialists worked feverishly over the man and used the paddles to try to resuscitate him. They put him on life support equipment in an attempt to keep oxygen flowing to his brain and other vital organs. Finally, the doctor in charge looked over his mask at the others and asked, “Anyone got any ideas?” They either nodded in the negative or just hung their heads in silence. A nurse was designated to “pull the plug” and the whir of the machines ceased.
“Who will notify his wife?” someone asked. She was a pediatric nurse and was working at the time on the floor just above the Operating Room. The man was buried on the very day he was to have received his master’s degree from BYU. They had two children and a lifetime of plans.
Often those who die early have demonstrated significant capabilities, interests, and talents. With our limited understanding, we lament the things that will not be accomplished and the songs that will not be sung. This has been described as dying with your music still inside you. Music in this case is a metaphor for unfulfilled potential of any kind.
“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” by Thomas Grey, reflects on such missed opportunities: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
Why does a just God allow bad things to happen, especially to good people? Why are those who are righteous and in the Lord’s service not immune from such tragedies? Quentin L. Cook said “from the limited perspective of those who do not have knowledge, understanding, or faith in the Father’s plan—who look at the world only through the lens of mortality with its wars, violence, disease, and evil—this life can seem depressing, chaotic, unfair, and meaningless.” He compared this perspective with someone walking into the middle of a three-act play.
“Adverse results in this mortal life are not evidence of lack of faith or of an imperfection in our Father’s plan,” said Elder Cook. “The refiner’s fire is real and qualities of character and righteousness that are forged in the furnace of affliction perfect and purify us and prepare us to meet God…One of the reasons for the terrible loss of life on the Titanic is that there were not enough lifeboats. Regardless of the trials we face in this life, the Savior’s Atonement provides lifeboats for everyone.”
“In my Gethsemane and yours,” said Robert D. Hales, “we are not alone. He that watches over us shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4)