A Command to Live

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“A Command to Live,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 65–67

A Command to Live

The engine of our small station wagon whined as we labored up the hill past the rolling, desolate Utah countryside. Excited chatter and the crackling of candy wrappers filled the air. The annual fathers and sons’ outing had arrived. My two boys, then five and six years old, had waited enthusiastically all summer for this special event.

Soon we arrived at the stake ranch. Dust from the pasture choked us as we bumped across the field to meet the other members of our ward. Our old tent, with its musty canvas scent, went up more easily than it had in the past. My two helpers beamed with pride.

As the aroma of fried chicken reached us, the boys’ attention quickly turned from their tent to food. The sound of scraping forks and the clang of metal dishes were pleasant in the early evening calm. The sun would set late, allowing plenty of time for after-dinner activities—most notably the hayride.

Riding the hay wagon was always one of the big events at the ranch. The aging wagon groaned under load after load of hay bales and a boisterous swarm of boys of all ages, shapes, and sizes. The tractor would strain momentarily, then lurch forward with a rhythmic putt-putt through the fields. My two sons excitedly awaited their turn for a ride.

Suddenly someone called out, “Doc! They need you in a hurry! There’s been an accident.”

Dropping my plate and quickly wiping my greasy hands on my pants, I ran full speed toward a group of men and boys crowded silently around the back of the hay wagon. Lying behind the left rear wheel lay a small boy crying and writhing in pain, his tousled blond hair stirring the dust. No one knew for sure how it happened; the wagon might have suddenly pitched sideways as it struck a rut. But somehow the youngster had fallen from the wagon and had been run over. Diagonally across his body from his right hip to his left shoulder was the ugly imprint of the tire.

“Just four years old,” the boy’s father said in response to my question. As I bent over the small form, I could barely feel his pulse, rapid and thready. To examine his abdomen and chest more thoroughly, I loosened his belt. He winced with pain as I touched the upper left part of his abdomen. “Probably a ruptured spleen,” I thought with considerable alarm.

My training in obstetrics and gynecology had not prepared me very well for this type of trauma, but within moments a general surgeon and an ophthalmologist from another ward came to assist. Fortunately, the surgeon had a well-equipped first-aid kit in his car and immediately started intravenous fluid running into the boy’s left forearm. It was comforting to have a general surgeon present with his greater knowledge and experience with trauma.

Although the youngster remained conscious, his body was going into shock. “This boy needs to be in a hospital as soon as possible,” the surgeon said.

“Let me take him!” came a voice from a nearby camper-van.

As gently as possible we lifted the limp little form into the waiting vehicle. The boy’s father, my ophthalmologist colleague, and I jumped into the van to accompany him to the hospital. Having done all he could to prepare the boy for the ride to Salt Lake City, the surgeon stayed behind to attend to another child who was having an asthmatic attack.

I shouted last-minute instructions to my sons to stay with the bishop, and the stake president admonished us to drive carefully as he tossed a small object to me. “You might need this,” he said. The door slammed shut, and we were on our way.

I looked at the object in my hand—a bottle of consecrated oil. I offered it to the injured youngster’s father. Through tears he explained that he couldn’t control his emotions enough to talk and asked that we administer to his son.

My medical colleague held the I.V. in the air while I anointed the boy’s head. Then he hung the intravenous bottle on an improvised hook while he sealed the anointing. As our hands rested on our small patient’s head, we could feel the awful bumping of the van as it hurried over the rough road. But above the roar of the engine and the rattles produced by the rugged road, I distinctly heard the words, “… by the power of the priesthood, we command you to live until we can obtain the necessary medical help.”

We tried to comfort our tiny patient, yet continued to arouse him so he would not lapse into unconsciousness. The drive from the city to the stake ranch had required an hour and forty-five minutes. As I remembered how rapidly patients can bleed to death from a ruptured spleen, the words “we command you to live” echoed in my mind.

After an unbelievable forty-seven-minute trip, we carried our seriously injured little patient through the emergency entrance of the Primary Children’s Medical Center. Just as we arrived, an enormous cloudburst descended. In a matter of minutes the van was up to its hubcaps in water.

“You handle your van very well,” I said to the driver. “Where did you learn to drive like that?”

“I’m an ambulance driver by profession,” he said.

Some might call it coincidence, but when we arrived at the hospital, we were able to get the boy into surgery almost immediately. The pediatric surgeon was off duty but had come to the hospital to catch up on some paperwork, and the pediatric anesthesiologist had just arrived to examine the next day’s surgical patients.

Weary from our experience, the ophthalmologist and I nonetheless accepted the invitation to observe the surgery, and what we saw was remarkable. The laceration in the boy’s spleen was the size and shape of a quarter. Ordinarily a spleen with a rupture this severe would cause death within a very few minutes from hemorrhage. But, amazingly, the hemorrhage had stopped; it was sealed by a beautiful, blue-black clot. As I looked at what normally would have cost the life of this precious boy, I could only repeat those words of the priesthood bearer: “We command you to live.”

Later, as we emerged from the operating room, the surgeon offered encouraging words. “That fracture in his hip may slow him down a little,” he said, “but he’ll soon be as good as new.” The boy’s father relaxed with a very relieved smile.

The sudden thunderstorm had flooded the highway in several places, making the trip back to the ranch difficult—a trip that might well have been impossible a few hours earlier. That night our heavy eyelids closed on grateful eyes, grateful for the miracle they had beheld.