Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 10, 2002


The Presbyterians lay to rest the body of a good man


            The doctor who admitted me to the hospital put the blame for pain on my gall bladder. He recommended surgery.

            When he asked what surgeon I preferred, I did not have a clue. I agreed for him to call in Dr. Robert L. Dorrough who happened to be Chief of Surgery at Baptist Hospital in Montgomery.

            Early the next morning the good doctor introduced himself at my bedside.  He explained my options. One, delay surgery until the next time my gall bladder flared up, or two, agree for him to operate.

            I asked him to explain the surgical procedure. At that time, removing a gall bladder was major surgery. For him it was routine. He was an experienced surgeon.

            He would simply make a grand opening in my midsection, remove the troublesome organ, and sew me back up.

            “How soon can I be back in my pulpit?” I asked.

            “You can return to work after two weeks, though I strongly recommend that you take four weeks off for a complete recovery,” he replied.

            I was 48 and had never gone under the knife. Now facing this necessity, I wanted to know something about the man who would wield the scalpel.

            So I asked him what was for me a very important question: “Are you a Christian?”

            He smiled and said, “I have a son who is a Presbyterian minister.”

            I smiled back and said, “But that does not make you a Christian.”

            Unperturbed by my grilling, he replied, “You’re right, but I am a Christian and I consider my work a ministry.”

            Convinced now that I could trust him to cut me open, I asked him to operate that very day. I wanted to get on with it.

            He asked me to wait a couple of days. “I promised to help my son pack to move, so I need to keep my promise,” he said. The date for surgery was set for two days later.

            During the time I waited for surgery I had two memorable experiences. One was humorous. The other was not.

            A well-meaning friend who was a nurse visited me. She came to encourage me, but failed. As she was about to leave my room, she said, “Preacher, you will be fine; I have heard of only two people who ever died from gall bladder surgery.”

            I smiled faintly as she left. Then fear took over, as it sometimes does. Only two people have ever died from this surgery, and I was about to become the third!

            It was only after I realized I had not died that I was able to laugh at my friend’s attempt to encourage me.

            On the night before surgery, my family visited with me for hours. At last, only my wife was in the room. However, about 9:00 o’clock, she announced that she was going home and would see me the next morning.

            In the next few moments, I realized how lonely a hospital room could be when there is no one to hold your hand. Once again, fear swept over me. This might be my last night to be alive.

            If it were, there were some things I wanted to say to my wife, so I wrote her a long letter, to be opened only in the event of my death. I tucked the letter in my Bible, still wrestling with raw fear.

            Ashamed that I had not thought of it sooner, I opened my Bible to find help. Soon I began reading Psalm 91.

            Some say the Book of Psalms contains the songs and prayers of an ancient people who cried out to God hundreds of years ago.

            However, that night they were much more than that to me. That night the 91st Psalm was a personal message from God to me. I was a frightened man and, speaking to me through that Psalm, God comforted my soul and quieted my fear.

            That night I rested “in the shadow of the Almighty.” I took refuge “under his wings,” and found victory over the fear that comes like “the terror of night.”

            I smiled as I read in verse eleven about the Lord commanding his angels to guard me in all my ways, even to lift me up “in their hands.” If those angels are able to lift me up, then the Lord has some mighty big angels, I thought, as I dropped off to sleep.

            My surgery the next day went off without a hitch. For over 20 years I have been thankful for the skill and kindness of that splendid surgeon.

            Last Thursday the Presbyterians lay to rest the body of that good man. It was only when I read his obituary that I realized what a fine and humble Christian Robert Dorrough was.

            When I asked him if he was a Christian, he could have told me that he had once served as a medical missionary in the Philippines and Korea. Obviously he had no need to boast or try to impress me with his credentials.

            I seldom read obituaries. This one I read with emotion and gratitude. I wished I had taken the time, before he passed on, to thank him one more time for a job well done.

            His passing reminds me that in the course of a lifetime, most of us are blessed to have many wonderful people touch our lives in beneficial ways. Surgeon Robert Dorrough was one of those for me.