Bmj Usa: Filler

The miracle

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 19 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:E231
  1. Renate G Justin (rjustin{at}
  1. Fort Collins, Colorado

    From BMJ USA 2003;June:338

    Once again the police brought this 17-year-old to the emergency room, dirty, louse infested, psychotic. This time they had found him under a bridge, preaching loudly to an invisible congregation. The psychiatric consultant agreed that he needed to be hospitalized, not sure whether he was suffering from a schizophrenic break or a psychosis secondary to drug abuse.

    The nurse bathed him, cut his hair and nails, and put him in clean pajamas. Meanwhile I called his parents to notify them of their son's admission. They thanked me and told me that they would stop by the next day, but neither parent was able to muster strength to try to rescue this young man. The repeated crises and admissions to jail and hospital had left them worn out, hopeless, and depressed. They had spent their emotional and financial resources trying to cure their son of his addiction; this hospitalization was just another proof of their impotence.

    The psychosis cleared after prolonged hospitalization and abstinence from drugs. He was discharged to a halfway house, but neither his parents nor his physician held out much hope that he would stay clean. Shortly after arriving at the halfway house, he disappeared. Both his family and I lost track of him. We did not know if he was alive or dead, but I thought about him often and kept in touch with his parents.

    Years later, I was seeing patients in my office when my nurse told me that an insurance salesman wanted to see me. A patient had not shown up, providing a 10-minute pause in the schedule. A young man in a black suit and colorful tie, carrying a briefcase, walked into my office. I invited him to sit down, expecting him to solicit me to buy insurance. He sat quietly, looking at me thoughtfully, and finally said, “You don't recognize me, do you?” I admitted that this was true.

    When he gave me his card, his name jumped out at me. I could not believe that the insurance salesman was my former patient. The excitement I felt when I realized that he had “returned from near death” made me hug him joyously. He showed me pictures of his wife and 2-year-old daughter, and told me how proud his parents were of their first grandchild.

    I am a physician, trained not to believe in miracles, but that morning I felt I had witnessed one.

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