Example #103 Surgery and Gratitude

What if learning about ultrasound led to gratitude?

David wanted to set the destruction of kidney stones by ultrasound in a wider context so that students could see how far medicine has advanced and be thankful.

"Having taught about ultrasound and its uses, I decided to use a more storytelling approach and I read a section from Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography of Pepys: Samuel Pepys, The Unequalled Self. In this book, Tomalin sets out the procedure for an operation to remove a stone in the bladder in the 1650s. She writes about the lead up to the operation: that it should take place during the spring; that the sick person should cultivate a ‘calm frame of mind’; that wine was not allowed for some weeks before the operation; that the patient should be bled and have a warm bed.

"Tomalin then goes into the details of the operation and the preparations on the day. She talks of the patient being asked to position himself on a table, being trussed like a chicken with strong men needed to hold him as there were no anaesthetics. I needed to select carefully from the account of the operation as it makes gruesome reading.

"The class were shocked by the account and I went on to highlight the changes in surgery since the 1650s and how ultrasound removed the need for surgery. The addition of a true story from the past had impact and helped the class to see how medicine has advanced and just what we take for granted. In many parts of the world today, people still do not have access to ultrasound and live with painful conditions.

"The students went on to look at a wide range of uses of ultrasound and it was helpful to get them to stop and think about what the procedures were – industrial or medical – before this discovery."

What’s going on here?

David saw his lesson on ultrasound as a way of encouraging gratitude. His way of teaching ultrasound in relation to the past meant that students could be challenged to change their attitude to modern medicine and not take it for granted, as well as connecting their own privileges to others' needs.

He engaged his class by focusing student attention on the contrast between stone removal in the 1650s and present stone dispersal with ultrasound. He encouraged reflecting within a new framework on what life was like before ultrasound in a range of fields.

David reshaped his practice by changing his approach to include storytelling in science, providing a key contrast and putting the learning within a framework of gratitude and care.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Faith sees all life as the gift of a loving God. Thankfulness is a response to this insight. It is the opposite of seeing life in terms of my demands. Gratitude involves a reorientation of life with thankfulness as the default setting. Being thankful raises awareness not only of our own situation but also brings to mind the situation of others and makes us outward looking.

What difference does it make?

David wanted his students to grow in gratitude and saw science as an opportunity for doing this. By being intentional and focusing on the issue he raised awareness and created opportunities for growth. A change in attitude can make all the difference, gratitude can redress a tendency to focus on the negative rather than looking for what we have to be thankful for.

Where could we go from here?

Other scientific advances could be put within an historical or world context so that students can see the background to the advance and the lack of access to some scientific advances that exists in various parts of the world. This could lead to making links with other communities. (Care needs to be exercised so that it is two-way and both communities benefit.)

Digging deeper

A sense of gratitude has been identified as good for our health, something the Bible said many years ago (Proverbs 15:30). Throughout the Bible, people give thanks to God in prayer, song, worship and dance. Saying 'thank you' is the most basic form of prayer that is never grown out of. In the Old Testament, gratitude is an integral part of worship and life (Psalm 136:1). Jesus gave thanks for food and to God for answering his prayer over Lazarus. Jesus commended the one leper who came back and said thank you after he healed them. Paul starts many of his letters with thanksgiving and tells the Christians to give thanks in all things (Colossians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Thankfulness can be towards God (Psalm 92:1) and others (1 Timothy 2:1). Martin Luther saw gratitude as the basic attitude; it is like a mould that shapes life. When someone does something for you there is a sense of thanks that are due, hence Luther’s saying that, "Unthankfulness is theft". Too easily a 'rights' culture can slip into ingratitude.

The term ‘Eucharist’ (Holy Communion) means thanksgiving; it is a thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that opened up a new relationship with God through forgiveness of sins.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. Meister Eckhart

To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted. Albert Schweitzer

Gratitude is a counterpoint to the problem of suffering. When we suffer we often ask the question ‘Why?’ because we feel it is not deserved. Gratitude is learning to see pleasure and the good things of life as undeserved but freely given and part of God’s bounty, and it can also connect with concern for the situation of others.

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with the tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
G. K. Chesterton

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1I don't need to write to you about the time or date when all this will happen. 2You know that the Lord's return will be as a thief coming at night. 3People will think they are safe and secure. But destruction will suddenly strike them like the pains of a woman about to give birth. And they won't escape. 4My dear friends, you don't live in darkness, and so that day won't surprise you like a thief. 5You belong to the light and live in the day. We don't live in the night or belong to the dark. 6Others may sleep, but we should stay awake and be alert. 7People sleep during the night, and some even get drunk. 8But we belong to the day. So we must stay sober and let our faith and love be like a suit of armour. Our firm hope that we will be saved is our helmet. 9God doesn't intend to punish us, but wants us to be saved by our Lord Jesus Christ. 10Christ died for us, so that we could live with him, whether we are alive or dead when he comes. 11That's why you must encourage and help each other, just as you are already doing. 12My friends, we ask you to be thoughtful of your leaders who work hard and tell you how to live for the Lord. 13Show them great respect and love because of their work. Try to get along with each other. 14My friends, we beg you to warn anyone who isn't living right. Encourage anyone who feels left out, help all who are weak, and be patient with everyone. 15Don't be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else. 16Always be joyful 17and never stop praying. 18Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. 19Don't turn away God's Spirit 20or ignore prophecies. 21Put everything to the test. Accept what is good 22and don't have anything to do with evil. 23I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 24The one who chose you can be trusted, and he will do this. 25Friends, please pray for us. 26Give the Lord's followers a warm greeting. 27In the name of the Lord I beg you to read this letter to all his followers. 28I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you!
1It is wonderful to be grateful and to sing your praises, Lord Most High! 2It is wonderful each morning to tell about your love and at night to announce how faithful you are. 3I enjoy praising your name to the music of harps, 4because everything you do makes me happy, and I sing joyful songs. 5You do great things, Lord . Your thoughts are too deep 6for an ignorant fool to know or understand. 7Though the wicked sprout and spread like grass, they will be pulled up by their roots. 8But you will rule over all of us for ever, 9and your hateful enemies will be scattered and then destroyed. 10You have given me the strength of a wild ox, and you have chosen me to be your very own. 11My eyes have seen, and my ears have heard the doom and destruction of my terrible enemies. 12Good people will prosper like palm trees, and they will grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. 13They will take root in your house, Lord God, and they will do well. 14They will be like trees that stay healthy and fruitful, even when they are old. 15And they will say about you, The Lord always does right! God is our mighty rock. The Lord is king
1First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. 2Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honour God. 3This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Saviour. 4God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, 5There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us. 6God showed us this at the right time. 7This is why God chose me to be a preacher and an apostle of the good news. I am telling the truth. I am not lying. God sent me to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. 8I want everyone everywhere to lift innocent hands towards heaven and pray, without being angry or arguing with each other. 9I would like women to wear modest and sensible clothes. They should not have fancy hair styles, or wear expensive clothes, or put on jewellery made of gold or pearls. 10Women who claim to love God should do helpful things for others, 11and they should learn by being quiet and paying attention. 12They should be silent and not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do. 13After all, Adam was created before Eve, 14and the man Adam wasn't the one who was fooled. It was the woman Eve who was completely fooled and sinned. 15But women will be saved by having children, if they stay faithful, loving, holy, and modest. Church officials