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Time Constraints

February 15, 2022

“…The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel” (Joshua 10:13-14, NIV).

Robert Gordon describes below an event in the life of renowned surgeon Robert Liston in pre-antiseptic surgical times. The famed physician used to hold the surgical knife in his teeth to free up his hands for rapid amputations.

“Amputated the leg in under 212 minutes (the patient died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene; they usually did in those pre-Listerian days). He amputated [at the same time] the fingers of his young assistant (who died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene). He also slashed through the coat tails of a distinguished surgical spectator, who, so terrified that the knife had pierced his vitals, fainted from fright (and was later discovered to have died from shock).”

Sometimes we move too fast, assuming that time is our master, rather than the God who can stop the sun.

As healthcare professionals, many of us manage our patients in atmospheres of oppressive productivity. Some of this demand comes from large numbers of patients who need our care. Much of it comes from the over-taking of our professions by business interests.

And, though I would like to blame our CEO’s alone, we are often complicit in seeking the profits their business acumen promises.

As Christians who happen to be healthcare professionals, we need to step back and prioritize the goals of our care. Somewhere on that priority list sits the legitimate economic welfare of our families, but this should not be at the top of our list.

At the top of my list, as a Christian, I should place the mission to which I have been called: the whole person care of my patients, including their spiritual, emotional, physical and social well-being. I am primarily here as God’s ambassador, bringing God’s active love to those I serve. This mission must come first in my work life, though I often let it slip below others in my priorities.

One complex decision for me is determining the amount of time I should spend with each patient to accomplish this mission. In my own practice, I know what it means to move too fast. Not only does it hurt my patients, but it hurts the gospel.

I have chosen the following three questions to help me evaluate the speed of my care.

If I took more time with each patient:
Would I provide better healthcare?
Would I provide greater comfort?
Would I more likely share the gospel?

If the answer to any one question is, “Yes,” I need to change the way I practice, unless God tells me otherwise. Should I not, I may not be cutting off the fingers of those who share my work, but I certainly am at risk of cutting off the gospel that God has channeled through my life to the patients I serve.

Dear Father,
Let me examine the time I spend with my patients and fit it to your plan for their care.

Al Weir, MD

Al Weir, MD

After leaving academic medicine, Dr. Weir served in private practice at the West Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee from 1991-2005 before joining the CMDA staff as Vice President of Campus & Community Ministries where he served for three years from 2005-2008. He is presently Professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Program Director for the Hematology/Oncology fellowship program. He is also President of Albanian Health Fund, an educational ministry to Albania where he has been serving for 20 years. He is the author of two books: When Your Doctor Has Bad News and Practice by the Book. Dr. Weir’s work has also been published in many medical journals and other publications. Al and his wife Becky live in Memphis, Tennessee, and they have three children and three grandchildren. Dr. Weir is currently serving on CMDA's Board of Trustees.

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