I had just saved a man’s life, and I was deeply ashamed.
If only I had killed him.
The refectory for the staff of a large hospital is a desperate place in the early hours of the morning. Weary and miserable doctors and nurses were relaxing alone or in twos and threes, legs outstretched, chins in hands. There were lots of bleary eyed soul-searching and the blessed silence of the weary.
“Once I had his chest wide open, all I needed to do was cut some blood vessels that the bullet could have severed, and he’d have bled to death in no time. And no one would have known,” I told my friend and boss, Dr Kumar.
“Shut up, Simon,” snapped Dr K, as he got to his feet. He was angrier than I’d ever seen him before. “For the record, I didn’t hear what you just said. I won’t repeat it to a living soul, and nor should you! Forget you ever thought it! I’m leaving before I say something I’ll regret.”
The news of the terrible terror attack had been across the television and radio news all evening. The lone terrorist whose life I had just saved, had used a large kitchen knife to randomly attack members of the public on a busy station platform. He had deliberately murdered five innocent people, and injured six more before the police had been able to shoot him, the lucky shot felling him instantly.
“Thanks to me he’ll make a full recovery,” I called out to Dr K as he walked away. “He might come out of jail in ten years and go on to kill again, and it’ll be my fault.”
“Go home, get some rest and pull yourself together!” was his parting shot.
I wasn’t feeling any better when I went back to theatre and spoke to my pal Troy, who hadn’t had such a medically successful night as I had.
“My guy died,” he muttered gloomily. “I did everything I could. I’ve been told he was the very last of that bastard’s victims.”
“And I managed to save his killer,” I said angrily.
He nodded and clapped a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, “You saved a life, mate, and you succeeded. I tried to do the same thing and I failed. Thinking any further than that is crazy, it doesn’t help anyone. All that matters is that we both did our best. It’s up to God to make the hard choices, luckily we don’t have to.”
It was the end of my shift, and I remembered Troy’s words as I was passing the hospital interdenominational chapel when I glimpsed the Catholic priest, dear old Father O’Leary, who was just leaving.
“Father, please, could I have a word with you?” I asked him.
“Of course, Simon. Come on through.”
I’d come across Father O’Leary a few times before, and I instinctively liked the kind, softly spoken Irishman. In the quiet of the silent chapel I told him what had happened and how wretched I was feeling. He nodded in sympathy.
“I know it’s wicked to wish that I had been able to kill a man, but I can’t help it,” I told him. “Am I wrong to feel this way?”
“I understand exactly how you feel,” he told me. “You saved the life of an evil monster, who one day might go on to kill again. But you simply had no choice. If it’s any comfort, I was once in a similarly difficult position, and my problem was even worse than yours. A psychopathic killer once confessed to murdering a number of young women in the confessional booth. Afterwards I was in an impossible situation, because, as you know, whatever is said in the confessional cannot be told to another living soul. Naturally I felt it was my duty to tell the police about the man’s guilt – in fact he had told me that he was afraid he would kill again. But God’s law meant that I couldn’t break his confidence. Even if it meant he murdered again, and I would, in a way, be responsible for not stopping him. Twas an impossible choice, but I had to do the hard thing. Just like you I was afraid I’d be allowing a killer to kill again, but there was nothing else I could have done.”
“What happened?” I asked him.
“Luckily he went to the police and confessed to the crimes himself, as I’d urged him to do. But I often wonder how I would have felt if he’d killed again because of what I hadn’t done. The point is, Simon, we’re both bound by strict rules and guidelines, In my firm, only God is allowed to break the rules and in your profession no one at all has a free pass. But listen, I’ll say one more thing to you: God moves in mysterious ways, and He has a way of making things make sense in the end. You just have to give him your trust.”
Outside, I was just about to get into my car, when a policeman appeared. I recognised him from the ward – he had accompanied some of the injured people.
“Excuse me, doctor, could I have a quick word?” he asked.
“Could I ask, how is the man you operated on, the terror suspect?”
“Unfortunately it looks like the bastard will make a complete recovery.”
His face lit up with a magnificent smile, “Honestly, you don’t know how glad I am to hear you say that.”
“Because in the last half hour there’s been a development. At the time, everything happened so fast we jumped to a few wrong conclusions. Turns out that the man you operated on wasn’t the murderer at all – eye witnesses have told us that he was a hero! Apparently he rushed in and grabbed the knife off the killer and stabbed him in the struggle to get his knife, and in all the confusion, we gunned down the wrong man. There’s going to be a hell of an enquiry about it all. But if the bloke who saved the day is going to recover, that’s what I call a result!”
After the policeman had gone, Father O’Leary ran over and shook my hand.
“I just heard the news,” he told me, his delighted grin making him look about twelve years old. “Didn’t I tell you that God moves in mysterious ways?”
“Thanks for your support, Father, I appreciate it. By the way, you broke some of you own rules tonight, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know that priests ever told lies.”
“You’re not the only one who saw that marvellous old film about a priest who had to make an impossible choice. Montgomery Clift was a great actor.”
“So he was, so he was.” He joined in my laughter, tacitly admitting to his lie. “And you know something, Simon? You’re a great doctor.”
(Image courtesy Zahid H Javali from Pixabay)