30 years

Today is thirty years since I left my first job as a House Surgeon in south-east England to become a House Physician in the north-west.

I can vividly remember looking up the dose of paracetamol for a patient in the British National Formulary on my first day as a doctor, despite consuming that drug as a hangover cure for six years previously.

I remember the poor guy with throat cancer coughing and bleeding to death as his carotid artery was eroded by his disease. I remember the young housewife whose life I saved by transfusing her with blood while packing her severely bleeding nose with compressive wadding.

I also remember successfully diagnosing malaria as a cause of unexpected fever in a youngster from Pakistan who had had minor ear surgery that morning as a health tourist.

Then there were my not so glorious moments. The time I clumsily and insensitively broke the news of breast cancer to a young woman, for instance. There were many other gauche episodes in my first six months as a doctor, which I would rather not detail here. I still blush with shame when I remember them.

I moved onto my next appointment which was equally mixed with good and bad, for my patients and for myself. The only consolation is that I gradually improved as a doctor as I gained experience and endured shame and necessary desolation. God is good and blesses us all.


Amoris Laetitia, a medical perspective.

Even in a field hospital, some life threatening conditions can only be diagnosed, managed, and a cure attempted, by a surgeon, a person skilled in the parting and closing of flesh. Their deep knowledge of anatomy and pathology, and their excellent skills at incision, excision, suturing and bleeding control can save the patient’s life.

However, before the discovery of anaesthesia, most patients perished under the knife because surgery was so traumatic, painful and bloody. Alternatively, some patients would prefer to die untreated rather than face the proffered horror.

Nowadays, thanks to the triad of anaesthesia, sleep, pain relief and muscle relaxation, there is no surgical intervention that cannot be attempted. The anaesthetic can even be continued postoperatively for those who are too sick and frail to wake up immediately, while awaiting their sometimes prolonged recovery.

Surgeons and anaesthetists devote the time of their lives to care of the sick, and yet both are completely useless without the other.

The soul surgery that the Church offers to the sinner must be dealt with using a similar division of labour. A moral theologian/canon lawyer is needed to dissect right down to the marrow to root out the last vestiges of sepsis and cancer within the soul. However, a pastor must also be present to prevent the soul from literally giving up the ghost. Some priests may possess both skillsets but many will need training.

Christ during His ministry on Earth was the perfect physician who possessed perfect competence and power over sin, illness, disability and even death. He combined it with an attractive authority never seen before, and a deep empathic kindness that drew crowds of suffering and lost sinners to Him.

He reserved his righteous ire for the bloodthirsty and cruel pharisees, and for the soft-hearted and wrong-headed Peter (“Get thee behind me Satan!”). He actually became physically violent when he found his beloved Temple, his operating theatre if you like, full of useless money-men and their filth.

The Church, in continuing its Master’s work, must combine His competence, power, authority, and His kindness, all at the same time, in the eternal task of saving every sinner who comes to it for help.

“I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons”

All Along the Watchtower

Newly elected Pope Francis I -1761696

These words are reported by the site 1 Peter 5 as coming from the mouth of the Holy Father when asked to explain why he wanted some members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith removed from their posts. The full reported quotation is:

“And I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons for any of my decisions. I have decided that they have to leave and they have to leave.”

We need to be careful here, not least in view of the epidemic of ‘fake news’ which assails us daily. What we call ‘fake news’ is often no more than the tendency we all have to live in echo chambers of our own devising. We read websites written by people with whose views we are already in sympathy, and those sites tend to focus on parts of the picture which confirm the views they…

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