Tammy Real-McKeighan

Tammy Real-McKeighan , Spiritual Spinach

When I was in high school, I liked watching episodes of “M*A*S*H” on TV.

I enjoyed the main character, a witty doctor whose nickname was Hawkeye, along with the mild-mannered orderly “Radar” O’Reilly and other regulars in the M*A*S*H 4077 unit.

The show aired for 11 seasons and I still remember when, as a young reporter, I gathered with other newsroom staffers to watch the series’ final episode in February 1983.

Recently, I started watching M*A*S*H re-runs and was reminded of an episode I saw years ago. I looked it up on the Internet.

It’s called “Death Takes a Holiday.” The main plot of this poignant show involves people in the 4077 planning a Christmas party for orphans during the Korean War.

But that’s not what I recall most about the episode.

What I remember is how Hawkeye, Nurse Margaret Houlihan and another doctor, B.J. Hunnicut, worked to keep a mortally wounded man alive long enough so his children wouldn’t remember Christmas as the day their dad died.

It’s a touching episode for me, because I think it demonstrates the compassion many medical professionals have for their patients.

And I saw that compassion demonstrated in a unique way in February 2013.

That year, my husband Chuck was hospitalized after a vehicle accident. He had surgery and was on his way to recovering when he coded. A doctor later told me he thought a blood clot went to Chuck’s lung.

The doctor said it took four to five minutes to get a breathing tube into Chuck and his heart stopped for 11 minutes.

That’s a long time.

Chuck was unresponsive after that. Family members cried and prayed. I held out for miracle.

After all, if Christ could raise the dead (remember Lazarus?), I knew our Lord could do anything.

Days passed.

Before the accident, Chuck and I talked about what we were going to do to celebrate his 50th birthday.

It would cost something to rent a place for a surprise party and I knew I couldn’t sneak that money out of our checking account without Chuck noticing—so I just asked him about having a celebration.

Chuck said he’d rather celebrate his 50th birthday by going out for supper with family and save the party for his retirement.

So I didn’t rent a hall.

My daughter-in-law Rachel and I still talked about asking our friend Suzy Wess if she’d make some of her scrumptious cupcakes for Chuck’s birthday on Feb. 28.

The accident occurred on Feb. 12 and Chuck coded on Feb. 18.

I still held out hope that he’d miraculously recover.

As time whirled by in a blur, family members told hospital staff that Chuck’s 50th birthday was fast approaching.

I think some staffers even put up a little sign about his birthday. Rachel and I still talked about those cupcakes.

The day before Chuck’s birthday, one kind, young doctor tried to tell me they thought too much damage had occurred in my husband’s brain from the lack of oxygen after he coded.

Chuck’s condition continued to deteriorate and at one point an older doctor confronted me.

“I’m a man of faith, but not everybody of faith gets healed,” he said.

And almost under his breath, he said Chuck was just being kept alive by machines.

I was in my 30s when my parents died three years apart, but I called someone else for advice.

“I’ve closed the eyes on three husbands,” my then 82-year-old Aunt Ena told me over the phone. “Don’t keep him on those machines.”

Two days after Chuck’s 50th birthday, I walked down the hospital corridor having yet another conversation with God.

“If you’re going to do a miracle, now would be a good time to do it,” I told him.

There would be a different kind of miracle.

Our family said some painful goodbyes and medical personnel and took Chuck off the machines and I believe with all my heart that he’s with the Lord.

The church was packed on the day of Chuck’s funeral and several people shared warm remembrances.

We never had those cupcakes, but Suzy made a delicious red velvet cake for Rachel’s birthday that March.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Chuck and our life. And just like I said after my dad died, I know love is stronger than death.

I loved Chuck in this life. I will love him in the next. Death won’t change that.

In the meantime, the Lord apparently has more work for me to do. There are more chapters ahead in my life story and anything can happen.

I know Chuck, who once said he couldn’t promise me that he’d live a long life, but that he’d live a full life, would want me to do the same.

So I’m trying to do that. I’m not moving on — I’m moving ahead, carrying with me what I’ve learned from Chuck and hoping to bless others with that knowledge.

Every once in a while, though, I wonder about things and people.

I wonder if those medical professionals knew Chuck wasn’t doing well, but still wanted to see him reach that 50th birthday milestone, too.

It’s true that they had to wait for me to make a decision.

But I wonder if kind of like those characters on the M*A*S*H show, they didn’t want Chuck’s family remembering how he never lived to see his 50th birthday – so they waited.

If that’s the case, I think it was an amazing act of compassion that reminds me of Jesus.

Throughout the New Testament, we see many instances of Christ’s compassion as he fed the hungry, healed the sick and brought hope to the lost.

And there are instances where he raised the dead — like Lazarus and the daughter of Jarius and the son of the widow at Nain.

But Christ’s greatest act of compassion occurred when he gave his life on a cross (and rose again) so those who love and put their trust in Jesus can spend eternity in heaven with him.

I trust I’ll see Chuck in heaven someday, but I don’t suspect we’ll be talking about an episode of M*A*S*H.

Instead, I think we’ll be too busy rejoicing in the stellar love of a Savior, whose compassion is without equal.


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