Only If I See It For Myself

Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' (John 20:27. NIV)

He was a patient in the leprosy ward at the Chikankata Hospital in Zambia. I can see his feet in my mind's eye now - overly large in size, with splayed toes and a hallux varus. They looked more like hands than feet. Recurrent plantar ulcers brought him back to us, for bed rest or plaster cast, and always with protective footwear and repeated attempts at education. 

He had bilateral dropped feet. We had shown him the results of tendon transfers on others. We did our best to persuade him to follow suit. 'What exactly will you do?' was his question. We explained carefully, but he was dogged in his refusal. 'No, doctor -- this is how they are. I don't want you to operate on them.'

We tried, the physiotherapist tried; satisfied patients who'd had the surgery told him how easy the post-op education was. But resistance continued. I tried joking, I played draughts with him, but still no progress. I was losing hope.

One day a few weeks later, the plantar ulcer now well and truly healed, we stopped at his bed and posed our question. 'Are you ready for the operation now?' I asked, fully expecting another refusal. 'Just one thing,' he replied. 'You do the operation. Once it’s opened, show me what you've done before you tie the tendon in place.'

I gulped. 'What an unusual request, ' I thought, 'But if that leads to something better for him, why not.' These days a CCTV camera would have made it much easier, but not so in a 1970s mission hospital in rural Zambia. Regional anaesthesia made it a possibility, so that's what happened. Once everything was opened he sat up. We explained, he nodded thanks and laid down, content. He recovered well. The second operation went ahead a few months later without him having to see the tendon.

Thomas could be described as forerunner of the modern commitment to evidence-based medicine. He needed a little more than someone else's say-so before he believed. Thomas didn't only have to see the wound; he needed to put his finger inside it. And remarkably, Jesus invited him to put his finger right there. The result: Thomas found faith, with those profound words:
'My Lord and my God.'
But Jesus did conclude by saying to the disciples:
'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'

Most of the time I'm willing to follow with blind faith; but being able to see makes it a lot easier. There's probably at least half a Thomas in me. And I'm quite a bit like my patient, even though our feet are shaped differently.