Warning! Warning! … This article is NOT about religion, but we will touch on the subject.
Last week, I was scheduled to give an anesthetic to an elderly patient who was extremely sick. He was the proud owner of a pacemaker which wasn’t firing right, he had congestive heart failure, he’d consumed no food or drink for over 30 hours … etc. He was bleeding from an unknown source and we HAD to move forward. I found myself in a near-panic trying to figure out how to get this fellow through his procedure, preferably without chest compressions.
For some reason, I remembered another time of dread. Panic was an almost daily occurrence during my anesthesia training back in the early 90’s. I had so much contributing to my stress: I was wildly in debt – with more student loans than I could ever repay unless I passed the coursework and my boards. Classmates were quitting or flunking out with alarming regularity. One died of an overdose. Many classmates, I knew, were academically smarter than me. Sleep became a thing of the past. I was one of two people in my class with small children at home.
I attended a Catholic graduate school, and one thing that helped with my anxiety was a prayer that one of my instructors made us recite every day. After clinicals in the operating suites, my classmates and I would file into Sister Virgil’s classroom. Every day, she stood in front of the class and watched to make sure we recited the following:
Anesthetists’ Prayer to St. Rene:
St. Rene, patron of true anesthetists, who imitated the Divine Physician in so wondrous a manner, intercede for me engaged in this ministry to the sick. Gain for me proficiency, faith, understanding, love and courage in my vocation; and help me to see Christ in the patients, whom it is my privilege to serve. Plead for me at the Throne of the Divine Physician, that I may be able to devote my entire energy to the task at hand and be free from distractions, deceit, worldliness, and unworthy emotions. Seek for me the confidence, the self-reliance, and the tact to do which is right and necessary without any hesitation, despite whatever difficulties may arise during the course of this anesthetic. Obtain for me the moral courage to work always in accordance with God’s holy law.
Grant that in my small way I may serve not only to alleviate pain but also to draw myself and others to the love of God. Amen.
O, St. Rene, gracious Patron, hear my prayer. Help me with this anesthetic.
So, last week, while I worried about my patient’s anesthetic, I remembered this prayer from my life in the early 90’s. Or … more accurately … I remembered one line from the prayer (just as I can remember only one or two lines from several old songs). The line that came to me: be free from unworthy emotion. I had to search for the prayer on the internet to be able to share it with you in its entirety. But the words “unworthy emotion” comforted me decades ago, and they comforted me last week.
I remember that while I was in school I once confided to Sr. Virgil that I often felt scared. She gave me her Mother Superior look and said, “The antidote for fear is knowledge.” In other words, go hit the books. There’s no time for unworthy emotion.
Again, this is not intended to be a commentary on religion. Rather, this is really about kindness and nurturing. Trying to help people become the best that they can be in the ways we know, just as Sr. Virgil did. We never know how we may influence events, even decades later.
Sister Virgil is now with her maker, but my patient from last week is still here on Earth. The source of his bleeding was found and stopped. (Whew!)
On a final note, last year I debuted my first novel, Sweet Dreams. I dedicated the book to Sr. Virgil.