God used a shattered face to heal the healer
by John K. Graham
(Episcopal Life) On May 14, 1978, I was called to the emergency room of Schumpert Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana., to treat Chad Hammett, a 3-year-old boy who had received a shotgun injury. The left half of the child's face was blown apart when a gun accidentally discharged only a few feet away.
I will spare you the details of his injury. What I will say is that, as a plastic surgeon, I had attended many trauma cases, but this was the most devastating injury I had seen to someone's face. I wondered if Chad would ever appear normal again.
Chad's treatment room was soon filled with doctors and nurses shouting orders, drawing specimens of blood and checking vital signs. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the boy had his eyes riveted on me. He was watching every move I made. Sensing his anxiety, I took his hands in mine, forced a smile on my face and said, "Chad, everything is going to be fine. We are all here to help you. Don't worry, we can fix this."
In the operating room, we were able to rotate flaps of skin to cover the defect on his face and used skin grafts to cover the inside of his mouth. Over the years, additional surgery was required. While each operation was successful initially, the relentless contracting of scar tissue made it progressively more difficult for Chad to open his mouth, necessitating a return to the operating room.
All this meant Chad was in my office constantly. On one of Chad's first visits, he came into the door, stuck both thumbs in his pants pockets, spread his legs apart like a cowboy about to draw his guns, stuck his lower lip out, and said, "What Doctor Gra'm going to do to me today?" Instantly, he endeared himself to my entire staff and my wife, Pat, who worked with me. As often happens when a doctor works with a patient over many years, Chad and I became very close. We all loved the days when Chad and his mother, Janet, would return for a follow-up visit. It was always the high point of our week.
Answering a call
In 1989, I felt God's call to the priesthood. That year I closed my medical practice, said goodbye to my patients and left for Fuller Seminary. While there, I felt the call affirmed in my heart and began the process toward ordination. I transferred to the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin and, on January 23, 1995, became a priest in Christ's church. I now serve as associate rector at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, a 6,200-member parish in Houston.
I shall never forget this past Palm Sunday. That day, one of my duties was to celebrate Eucharist in our chapel. As the room emptied I noticed a row of people had remained in their pew and went over to greet them. It was then that a young man in his early 20s turned and said, "Dr. Graham, do you know who I am?"
I said, "I sure do, Chad Hammett, but I can't believe you look so good." For a moment I saw a picture of that 3-year-old boy in the Schumpert emergency room with his face torn apart. To me, Chad was the most handsome young man I had ever seen. I was especially pleased that he spoke normally, considered his jaw had been shattered by the shotgun blast. Over and over I kept saying, "Chad, you look so good."
Then Chad said something I shall never forget. He said, "Dr. Graham, I have known you were in Houston for several months now but I waited until today to come see you because this week I received a letter of acceptance to medical school at the University of Texas, Galveston." He added, "And you are the reason I want to be a doctor." Tears came to my eyes as we embraced.
Then Chad said, "Dr. Graham, what I appreciate so much is that every night before my surgery you would come to my hospital room and pray with me." Although I often had prayed with my patients as a physician, I had forgotten that I had prayed with Chad and was deeply moved that he remembered.
What amazes me is that God has taken this devastating experience in Chad's life and turned it for good. Today, Chad Hammett is a vibrant young man who will train to be a doctor so he can bless other people as he has been blessed. There is not a shred of anger or resentment toward God or anyone. Chad even said that if his deformity could be completely removed he would not want that done because "That wouldn't be me."
When he said this I thought of Henri Nouwen, author of "The Wounded Healer." Nouwen says that God takes our wounds, heals them and then sends us out to heal others. Chad was wounded as a little boy and as a man he will train to be a healer -- a wounded healer. I believe God will use this young man to touch countless lives in the years to come.
I suspect this side of heaven we rarely learn the ways God has used us to touch others. And I imagine that in heaven we will tell these kinds of stories, again and again. There we will know of the lives we touched when we prayed for someone with cancer, when we gave to those in need, and when we stood at a graveside with those who grieve.
Wounded people, all of us. Wounded people reaching out to heal the wounds of others and in the process we are both healed.
John K. Graham is director of evangelism and discipleship at St. Martin's Church, in Houston.