Opposite Ends of The Hall

I had just come from residency training at a Harvard hospital and a research fellowship at Washington University, and had successfully passed the Internal Medicine specialty boards. I was specialty board certified. I felt like the cat's meow. It was 1960. I was 31.

This particular morning I would hold teaching rounds on the third floor of a local SDA hospital, accompanied by the head nurse in a white starched uniform and striped cap, pushing a stainless steel cart with a vase of carnations and a stack of the charts of patients I would visit, and a stack of Steps to Christ. My entourage included the intern assigned to my service that month, a medical student, and two student nurses. To start and end the rounds we would visit two very old men both 85 or 86 years old, both terminal with advanced metastatic cancer, at opposite ends of the long hall, in rooms, 3003 and 3153.

I was in an expansive and professorial mood as our cheery retinue approached room 3003.

Waiting for us just outside the door was a cluster of 12 or 13 of the family, several generations, agitated, angry, some frankly hysterical, hardeyed.

The old man’s elder son started talking, it was more like a harangue. Quickly the others joined in, all shouting at the same time, some gesturing with empty beer cans. Looking back, I suspect concealed firearms.

“Doctor, why aren’t you doing more for Mr. Hard? You aren’t doing enough. Do everything, everything, anything! You got to! You can’t just let him die! Spare no expense! Has he had a CAT scan? He needs more blood. Give him more oxygen, turn it up; antibiotics, more antibiotics. Why hasn’t the laboratory technician been here yet? Why doesn't he have another special duty nurse? Call consultants. When is the kidney specialist coming?

“You simply must not let him die! It’s malpractice not to do everything, anything. You're standing in God's stead, don't you know that? We’re going to the Administrator, just barge in. The State Medical Board will hear about this. And you'll be hearing from our lawyer.”

Now less buoyant and rather silent, the carnations drooping, we trudged our way to the opposite end of the hall, room 3153. Waiting there was another family, distraught, weeping, bleary-eyed. Most of them were holding hands or hugging, hushed, heads down, New Testament in hand.

“Doctor, please, I beg you, have mercy!" one of them, a graying lady, finally pled, sobbingly. "Mr. Hurt is in misery, such awful misery, and you’re torturing him! He doesn’t need all that oxygen. That mask is suffocating him. Please don’t force it on him. He can’t stand all that blood. Why did a kidney doctor come to see him? He doesn’t need those antibiotics, he shouldn’t have it. So many medicines. He doesn’t need all those tests. We’re all here, his family, we’ll watch over him, he doesn’t need that special duty nurse. It’s inhuman. Please, you’re standing in God’s stead, don't you know that? Please let him have peace. It’s time for him to go. He’s had a beautiful life and he’s ready and wants to go. All of us agree. Why are you piling up expenses? We’re going to go see the chaplain. You’ll hear from our pastor.”

Today the two dying gentlemen would be in adjacent curtained-off beds in the Intensive Care Unit, attended by nurses in scrubs or pants suits and banks of monitors. Or sent to a hospice, or home. But the opposite opinions would still be shrieked.

Neither family paid, or ever would pay, any attention to the proffered Steps to Christ. Or the carnations.

I’m pushing 90 now. I have often thought of those families at the opposite ends of the hall and their impossibly opposite demands. Long ago I came to see them together as parabolic of something I knew not what. In recent days, again as parable achingly relevant and overarchingly confusing, so confusing that the parable doesn’t even seem relevant and why am I writing of it?

But maybe the parable of the two groups is all the more relevant and timely for being so consummately confusing. Both groups I visited were absolutely certain they each was right and that I was treating them wrong. Now it is the better part of a century later and I’m thinking of the Fall Council and the opposite convictions so zealously, steadfastly proclaimed, as so ably reported by our moderator and at such length commented on by you. A parable of End Times and confusion that if it were possible would deceive the very elect, emerges.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).


Dr. Kime was born in 1929, in Los Angeles, California.  

Kime pursued dual careers in art (since childhood) and medicine (physician; specialties in internal medicine and pathology; clinical and academic).  He studied the principles of art, chemistry of paint, and the works of master artists as assiduously as medicine.  After retiring from pathology at Kettering Medical Center in 1994, Dr. Kime has concentrated on his art, producing portraits, seascapes and figural work mainly in oils, and  urbanscapes predominantly in watercolor.  Dr. Kime currently lives in Redlands, CA.