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Doctor Lectures on Surgery as His Patient Dies

There's a scene in Herman Melville's (author of Moby Dick) novel White Jacket that focuses on the ship's chief surgeon, Cadwallader Cuticle, M.D. The doctor is bored with the voyage because he has little work to do, but one day he has the chance to do an exciting operation. A sailor has been shot in the leg and the leg must be amputated. The ship is in port so Dr. Cuticle invites surgeons from other ships to observe his impressive surgical skills on display.

Once the audience gathers, Dr. Cuticle chokes up as he explains, "This is my first important case of surgery in a nearly three years' cruise." Cuticle launches into a detailed lecture about anatomy, surgical techniques, and the many difficult operations he's performed in the past. As he proceeds with the amputation, the patient keeps shrieking and passing out. But Cuticle ignores the shrieks as he continues his long-winded monologue.

[Here's a small part of Cuticle's lecture, pompously delivered to his audience as he conducted the surgery:

Young gentlemen, you will perceive that precisely at this spot—here—to which I previously directed your attention—at the corresponding spot precisely—the operation has been performed. About here, young gentlemen, … the great artery was. But you noticed that I did not use the tourniquet; I never do. [A finger] is far better than a tourniquet, being so much more manageable, and leaving the smaller veins uncompressed. But I have been told, young gentlemen, that a certain … surgeon of Seville, has recently invented an admirable substitute for the clumsy, old-fashioned tourniquet. As I understand it, it is something like a pair of calipers, working with a small Archimedes screw—a very clever invention ….]

Finally, the steward of the ship interrupted Dr. Cuticle's lecture and said, "Please, sir, the patient is dead."

Cuticle nonchalantly replied, "I predicted that the operation might prove fatal; he was very much run down. Good-morning," and then walked away.

Possible Preaching Angles: (1) Preaching/Teaching—Eugene Peterson likens this story to what we do as preachers. We get in our pulpits, lecturing and analyzing the text while our parishioners (the patient) are dying. (2) Evangelism/Mission—While church members debate nonessential matters, lost people are dying without Christ.

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