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To say this has been a difficult year would be an understatement. It’s been a tumultuous year – systemic racism has reared its heads in Canada and the US; a much-anticipated and polarizing Presidential Election south of the border; our federal government pushing through a new assisted suicide law; a novel coronavirus, which led to a global pandemic and the need to alter how we do just about everything.
In many ways, it has felt like we are all Phil Connors in the film Groundhog Day. Every day has been the same day since mid-March, albeit with some intermittent better days. Pastor and author Pete Scazzero, drawing from St. John of the Cross, names the situation we find ourselves in a collective, global, “Dark Night of the Soul”. As much as each of us have been faced with similar daily challenges of adjusting to life with PPE, new protocols for seeing patients, and needing to bring our daily fears before God, we have seen signs of new life and growth.
In this issue, Emergency Medicine physician, Dr. Jemy Joseph talks about what it was like to adjust to working on the frontlines of COVID-19 centres in Toronto. Dr. Loreanne Manalac tells the unlikely story of studying medicine in her native country of the Philippines and, through hard work, good connections, perseverance, and resilience, God opened the door for her to match in family medicine in Regina, SK. Professor of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, Dr. John Bowen, shares his experience in seeing growth in church communities amidst the pandemic. Dr. Margaret Cottle shares a thoughtful article, using poetry as a curative measure for the beleagured soul.
This is also a year in which we saw the Student Leadership Conference, an Associate Staff retreat and weekly devotional for the healthcare community – each online, a first, and each giving members the opportunity to connect with God. Rev Dr. Cheryl Ann Beals has led several CMDA Canada members through an online pilot program, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It has been a tremendous gift to sit at the feet of Cheryl Ann. You will read testimonies from Dr. Jennifer MacKay and Dr. Tim Ehmann about their experience in this program.
We also have articles from both the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) and Atwell Pregnancy Clinic about their important work in mission fields home and abroad. Both articles speak to the innovation of their teams. Our members are and have been involved in both of these projects and give helpful insight into how more members can be at the forefront of medical training and patient care.
This year we have all been invited (and perhaps forced) to grow under the pressure of crisis. All of us are enduring the shared crisis of the pandemic, but each of us has experienced the challenges of the year in our own particular context. Medical and dental students have had significant challenges in the changes to their programs, made to accomodate current restrictions. Dentists have had to navigate the new PPE requirements and rolling lockdowns across the country. Healthcare professionals have been on the front line, worrying for the health of their patients while also worrying about their own likelihood of becoming ill themselves.
My own challenging call to new life and growth came this year through suffering. On July 23, I was in a terrible car accident in which the car was completely written off. Thankfully, no one else was involved in the accident. I suffered a left clavicle fracture requiring surgery for a plate with screws, as well as a concussion.
My experience throughout my recovery was very difficult. I thought I would bounce back from my injuries and surgery within a month, but that wasn’t the case. Not long after the surgery, my surgical wound become infected and I was prescribed high dose of antibiotics for six weeks. By the middle of my treatment on the antibiotics, my wound had not fully healed. The surgeon was considering another surgery to treat the wound, but was willing to keep me on the antibiotics for another two weeks as we had a baby due soon.
When I got into the car to go home after this appointment, my wife, Yenny started to have labour pains. It felt like more than I could handle – a possible second surgery and a baby coming anytime. My parents were extremely supportive. I called them when I got home and we wept and prayed together. My Dad, a retired family physician, reminded me of God’s nearness to me, especially through this difficult time. The next day we welcomed beautiful Eloise Mei into the world. God provided the help we needed with my mother-in-law as I still needed to rest as much as possible to help my recovery.
At my next follow up appointment, I was seen by the resident and the surgeon. The resident was encouraged by my progress, but the surgeon was not entirely satisfied. It had been about a month and half since the infection has been diagnosed and it wasn’t healing. The resident was convinced I was progressing and simply needed more time on the antibiotics. His conviction won out over the surgeon’s – and he was right! In the next couple of weeks my wound healed over. God did what God does and brought about healing into this area of my body.
In the midst of all this, my wife and I decided we ought to take steps towards this sense of God’s call and leave our jobs and move to my home province, where God had opened doors in the past for ordained ministry. Without any concrete job prospects and still not completely over my injuries, I tendered my resignation in late October and worked my last day with CMDA Canada in early November. Although it all sounds a little absurd, my wife and I and other spiritual leaders in our lives believe we are being led by the Lord to pursue ordained pastoral work in a Church setting. We were continuously of Isaiah 43:18-19: “See I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it? I am providing a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”
The physical and emotional suffering I experienced as a result of the accident, I believe, was soil for God to birth something new. I re-learned how much God loves me and how He spared me from worse or even fatal injuries and a second surgery. I re-learned to trust the ways in which He was speaking to me and calling me. I re-learned to trust His provision as He provided my mother-in-law to help when it would have been impossible to seek outside help, especially in a pandemic. I also saw God’s hand as worker’s compensation paid for a lot of my salary as I was off sick. I also received significant support from our students, residents, church and CMDA Canada staff. The suffering has led to a deeper reliance on God and an acute awareness of how He truly does look after us in our time of need.
I will dearly miss working with the students and grads in Toronto and our staff team in Nova Scotia. I think I have received far more than I could have contributed in this role. I am sad to go but I believe we are following God’s will; God has a way of having His way and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I trust this issue of FOCUS blesses you, as we look at stories of God growing us through this collective “Dark Night of the Soul.” Suffering, as painful as it is, is often the soil for spiritual growth. May the Lord use this issue to help you in your own spiritual growth.