"How to Save a Life"

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

One of the most popular songs by the American band, The Fray, is "How to save a life." According to lead singer Isaac Slade, he wrote it in response to his difficulty reaching a troubled teen. When I first heard it, I thought it was about the difficulty between two people in a relationship:

Step one you say we need to talk
He walks you say sit down it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came

Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you
And pray to God he hears you

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed
He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he'll say he's just not the same
And you'll begin to wonder why you came

The most powerful part of the song, however, for me is the chorus:

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

It immediately reminds me of those final hours with my eldest daughter. It was horrible. That night, the doctor did stay up all night with my daughter, but, so unfortunately, she did not make it. The worst part of that night and day was the realization that my daughter is actually going to die. That was the worst moment of my entire life.

You know, as a physician, I am in the business of "saving lives." It is a tremendous honor for me to help in the healing process. I am always on guard against becoming arrogant, thinking that I have life and death in my hand. As a believer, however, I know otherwise: that life and death is not in my hands, but in His. Moreover, my experience as a physician has confirmed this belief.

There are patients, despite horrific odds and a terrible disease, who survive and walk out of the ICU or hospital. For those patients, medical science and research says that they will not make it; but they do. I never forget those patients, and it always serves to keep me honest. And, sadly, there are patients who - despite the medical team doing everything right - simply do not make it. I never forget those, either. My daughter, in fact, was one of those patients.

These experiences have helped me stay honest, especially when I talk to family members of a critically ill patient. I don't want to give them false hope, but I also never want to be "Dr. Doom and Gloom." It can be a tough balance to maintain, but when I am honest and upfront about it, thankfully people appreciate it. And I would never hesitate to "[stay] up with you all night" in a relentless effort to "save a life."

But, as I reflect on this song, I am forever thankful and blessed to be given the privilege of being a physician. Very few feelings match what it is like to help someone feel better, breathe better, and get well from illness. And if, God forbid, my patient doesn't do well (which is, thankfully, not that often), it is an equal honor to be there to counsel loved ones, to try to help them feel better. And although I would be happier if it didn't happen to me, the experience of the death of my child has definitely helped me connect with other grieving family members.

The hallmark of a great song is that it can mean so many different things to different people; that it can transcend a specific context and bring meaning for a multitude of listeners. This song is one of those. Although it is painful to listen to at times, it does help me deal the grief and torture of having lost my eldest child. And Lord knows, I need all the help I can get.

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