Medicine, Miracle and Mystery: How they Intertwine
We didn’t know…
We married with great joy and had no idea that pregnancy could be lethal to my wife. We had no idea she had a genetic liver deficiency, that rising levels of estrogen in her system during pregnancy would cause her liver, first to shut down, and then begin to destroy liver tissue.
We married, took a year to settle, and then decided to try for a child. Of course, when the news came that Elizabeth was expecting, our circle was delighted. The usual kindnesses began to happen—a baby shower, cards from friends, joyful phone calls from her mom, her sisters, my family, unexpected gifts, all this and more.
I went to work setting up a room—a crib, a car-seat, a swing, and clothing. We were getting excited. Then it happened.
Cholestasis of pregnancy.
Cholestasis usually happens in the third trimester. This was Elizabeth’s first. The symptoms grew in frequency and intensity.
My wife’s skin and eyes began to exhibit jaundice, followed by abnormal bruising.
If I touched her she would bruise. Elizabeth needed specialists. She drove to one—and wound up in the perinatal unit of Vancouver Grace Hospital. Two world class specialists, one in perinatology and the other in hematology, were assigned to her.
We believe in medicine.
We also believe in miracle.
In holy mystery, medicine and miracle intertwine.
I have been a pastor for more than 30 years.
My wife and I have witnessed the miraculous—beyond ordinary medicine; we had seen this even in our first church. Here are two examples:
“Got some news today. Had a biopsy…”
He paused and said:
“Cancer’s gone!” He leaned forward, winked, and said, “We know Who got that!”
We believe in an intertwining.
Yet we prayed… and my wife was not recovering.
Three women determined to pray with her. My wife’s body felt like bee stings between her breasts and on the flats of her hands and feet. Only an ice-bath would numb the stings long enough for her to sleep for an hour—she was growing weaker. Yet when those women prayed, the stinging would cease—for 5-6 hours—the only relief Elizabeth experienced apart from ice-bathing.
There was an amniocentesis; the fluid came out dark green—our son was swimming in bilirubin and would likely be blind, deaf and possibly afflicted with Cerebral palsy; and Elizabeth was failing.
The medical team named two solutions. At 32 weeks they could put her on a drip to induce birth. Or they could do a C-Section—yet at 32 weeks the lungs of a male preemie would be barely developed. In those days, that meant the possibility of an iron lung on the newborn.
We were more than concerned.
The complicating factor was that I was needing to find a new church. The one I was serving couldn’t afford two pastors. A church fully 2000 miles away was interested. Since my wife and son might not be well it fell to me to provide.
And so, in a moment when the liver enzymes flattened down to “high, but out of danger” I flew to test out a calling there.
One fellow offered to drive me around the area. It was August—and unusually cold, 65 Fahrenheit rather than 90. The man went to put on a warm shirt. While sitting in his living room I saw an opened form letter, with a medical synopsis of 32-week-old male preemies, describing the effect of the labor-inducing drip. It said that at 32 weeks, the lung development of males would be aided by passing through the birth canal, but that there was a 35%-40% higher incidence of cerebral palsy, as the skull case was underdeveloped. The pressure could damage the brain.
On landing home, I drove straight to the hospital, and met nine physicians in her room. They said, “We are going to put Elizabeth on the drip, so that in three days the child will pass through the birth canal, our best chance to kickstart the lungs.”
They asked if there were any questions.
“Only one!” I said, pausing.
“Is it not true that with 32-week males passing through the birth canal, there is a 35-40% higher incidence of Cerebral Palsy as the pressure of the canal on the skull can cause damage?”
Shocked silence filled the room.
Everyone was stunned—my wife, the medical team—and me! Remember that I had read two paragraphs from an open form letter in a city 2000 miles away only two days before.
The team said, “We don’t know what to say.”
Six hours later, the leader, disheveled and weary, told us there would be a C-section the following Tuesday.
Our son, who was swimming in bilirubin, was born healthy. He wasn’t blind, deaf or afflicted with Cerebral Palsy. By the miracle of divine appointment, we were led to a medical solution, while we prayed for a miracle of healing.
Medicine and Miracle—they intertwine in holy mystery, until time ends and God reveals how the fabric of time and space was woven together, intermingle to coalesce into a melded tapestry of suffering and glory turned into beauty.
© David Chotka 2021