By Peter A. Cole, M.D.
This article originally appeared in Scalpel’s Edge Issue 30
Each time I see the courtyard at Hospital Amazonico, I am captivated by “The Tree.” There is a certain magnificence about this plant, not only because of its rich green beauty against the azure blue sky, but its location in front of the operating rooms where our surgeons reconstruct limbs and our teams mend lives.
On 7:00 a.m. arrival at the hospital, our truck turns the corner through the gates to pull up under the lush tree which arches like a guidepost to healing; family members await the arrival of another Scalpel team under its broad-leafed cover. One lady wonders, “Which patient will be called first?” and “will my brother be postponed again?”, while another holds out x-rays to get the attention of the team leader; yet another woman nurses her baby next to a splinted man on a moto. The life represented in this human collage makes me wonder, “What do their homes look like, when did their love begin, what sins haunt them, and what is their hope?” I snap out of this transient meditation to direct the team to haul trunks inside. Hupp to!
Within minutes, patients on stretchers have been rolled down the sidewalk by tidily clad nurses. The tree marks the entrance to new beginnings, new life. There are but four cramped OR’s inside, tucked at the end of a hallway lined with vulnerable patients on creaky beds–awaiting, awaking, anguishing. Scrub-dressed Scalpel team members scurry with equipment and holler directives, while pre-surgical planning ensues at a desk, and a prayer team huddles in the corner around a stretcher. There is no room for family members inside the structure; rather, they await news under the magnificent tree, the tree of life.
Sometime mid-day after a 5-hour femoral reconstruction, scrubs sweat-soaked, I plunge out of the OR facility doors for a stretch in the fresh air, with lunch of “pollo a la huanacaina” in one hand and a bottle of filtered water in the other. Thirsty, a moment of peace fills my mind during breaktime; suddenly I’m riveted by the cry of new families under the tree. “How did the surgery go?” one mama asks. “Can you take a look at my baby?” another wants to know. “We traveled 3 days to find you!” another person claims. I set my lunch down to give hopeful feedback. Relief seems to fill the parking lot. A flock of parakeets spooks out of the tree’s branches, screeching into the sky above. Another thick, humid, hot day in the jungle. I need the shade from this tree of life.
“Doc, you ready? Next patient’s asleep!” our Director shouts through the doors. I whisper a prayer for the patients and crush my water bottle. I leap to action, looking for my surgical teammates, and smile at the people who have graciously given me some tree-moments alone. Thank you, Jesus. Help me, Lord!
For a few moments in transit, I contemplate what the Bible said about the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, referred to by our Lord. Adam and Eve could have chosen to enjoy its fruit and remain in paradise for eternity in God’s favor without sin and all its repercussions; yet it was shunned in favor of the Tree of Knowledge to which Eve and then Adam was tempted by Satan—the serpent said they could be like God if they ate its fruit, and they did. They chose, and the consequence was to live in separation from our creator, with toil and sin, anxiety, stress, tears, fears, death–shunned from paradise, the Garden of Eden no more. Here I am at a hospital to relieve suffering; my thoughts connect. God committed them to such life until a time when their descendants would have a new choice, to enjoy saving grace once again through acceptance of God’s son Jesus, the new Tree of Life.
You who read these words right now have that choice just as Adam and Eve did, “Now lest he reaches out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –” therefore, the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:22b-24 (ESV) What is, “the way” which is referred to in the same verse? The way is Jesus. In verse 24, Scripture is making clear to us that heaven is guarded by “flaming swords” as if to instruct us that no one enters and contaminates heaven, no one enjoys paradise unless choosing “the way,” the new tree of life, asking Jesus into your life, indeed making the choice that Adam and Eve did not.
“Time out!” I call out in OR 1 to signal the start of a new case, scope out my new surroundings and evaluate my helpers. I place my palm on the patient’s body and say a prayer to guide my hand to put a woman together so she may function again, care for her children, love her husband, and above all, claim the tree of life. My knife glides silently through tissue planes until hours later, I am again dressing a wound. At this point, I just want to go and help the team pack up our trucks. I’ve been on my feet for 14 hours, and I’m feeling aching arches and tight quads. I make my way to the exit and swing open its doors. There in front of me, in the darkness of the courtyard, are shadows coming from more people, more patients standing under the tree of life with whites of eyes and teeth piercing the night; they’re hoping. I contemplate the tree of life and hope-filled hearts; how fitting.
There’s no matter more important than the one which launches in the book of Genesis and concludes in the book of Revelation. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” BOOM! There it is in Revelation 2:7, wow! The Tree of Life with fruit for a lifetime, Jesus and eternity, by the grace and mercy of our Creator. “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.” Proverbs 3:18 She is true wisdom, saving faith, Christ.