The Tiny Foot (from my story file)
A story originally told by the doctor himself,
Dr. Frederic Loomis
Many doctors will say that the most frightening decision of their lives comes when they must take a “playing God” action. Such decisions are placed upon them when they are urged to break their Hippocratic Oath, asked to do so by some heartbroken person who is cracking under the strain of watching a loved one suffering against pain with little or no hope of surviving.
Some years ago Dr. Frederic Loomis faced this frightfully fearsome moment. The heartbroken person was himself.
It all began routinely enough when he was to do something he had done many times before—deliver a baby. The woman, a delicate little person, prepared to give birth for the first time. This, the doctor discovered, however, was to be very different from any of the deliveries he had previously attended. The infant lay in a breech position, a difficult and dangerous type of birth. But Dr. Loomis, in his attempts to assist the mother, found that the child was also greatly deformed. One of its feet reached only to the knee of the other leg, and it had no thigh.
What would he do? When his searching hands made this discovery—known only to him—the doctor’s mind raced into the future. How could such a horribly deformed child grow into this world and expect to find any happiness? Would it not be looked upon as a freak, a pitifully twisted burden to its already fragile and weak mother? Just the thought of using all his skills to assist in this birth of such an infant turned the doctor’s blood cold. Would this child ruin the lives of the parents, even destroy their marriage? Lesser traumatic experiences had done so throughout history.
Dr. Loomis closed his eyes, at his fingertips, unknown to anyone but himself, was the pitiable creature yet unborn. He had in his power the absolute ability to decide its fate. He could detain the birth quite easily, long enough to cause the child to be stillborn. Wouldn’t that, everything considered, be the most merciful thing to do, not just for the horriblely deformed infant, but also for the future of the parents?
During the moments of momentous decision-thrashing, the doctor felt the baby’s heartbeat through its cord. The pulsation told him that he need only hold off a little longer and the sill birth would be achieved. But as he felt that heat, he also heard the thumping of his own heart. The two were almost in time with one another. This child, who he didn’t want to be born, was ready to come forth. Dr. Loomis wrestled with his conscience and continued to prevent the birth.
But, suddenly he realized he could no longer “play God.” Under the towel, which he had placed there, the infant’s normal foot was pressing against his hand, seemingly calling for permission to pass. Dr. Loomis could almost hear the message, the call for birth.
At the instant he discarded his previous line of action and helped the deformed baby into the world, which, he feared, would be unfriendly.
In the years that followed, Dr. Loomis learned to regret that action. He watched the family go through mental anguish as the mother and father desperately sought, but in vain, for some correction of their child’s deformity. While the doctor continued with his practice, his mind never could discard the sad results of the birth he allowed that day. Even after the family moved away from the area, not to be heard from again, he was unable to put his mind at ease. Their grief, he often told himself, was his fault.
Eventually, though, Dr. Loomis did find peace. It came during a Christmas party being held by the members of the hospital where he did most of his work. On this particular evening while the nurses came down the aisle of the auditorium carrying lighted candles and singing “Silent Night,” most touching and beautiful music filled the room. The musicians were a violinist, a harpist, and a cellist, all volunteers. And as Dr. Loomis stared at the lovely Christmas tree, the music flooded his ears and his heart. The sadness that seemed to have taken a permanent place within him ever since the birth of that unfortunate child always intensified during the Christmas season. It was during that time of the year . . . the celebration of the world’s greatest birth, that the saddest birth he had ever known flooded his memory.
During this occasion the doctor sat silently, almost somberly, affected only by loveliness of the music. How wonderful it would be, he thought, to have such talent. He sat enthralled by the sound. And when it ended a woman came alongside and touched his arm, startling him. “Doctor,” she said excitedly, “you saw her!”
He stared without recognition at the woman. She looked vaguely familiar, but he could not truly bring her to memory. “Don’t you remember me, Doctor?” she said. “Don’t you remember the little girl with only one good leg, seventeen years ago?”
Remember . . . why that was the only thing in his life that he could never truly forget! He stood and stared at her as she continued: “That baby was my daughter, and I saw you watching her play the harp here tonight.”
The doctor’s heart thumped as the woman went on: “Now she has an artificial led. She can swim, walk, almost dance! Best of all, she learned to use her hands beautifully and she is very happy.”
At her mother’s calling, the lovely young harpist walked steadily to them, and the mother introduced her to the doctor who had brought her into the world. With his eyes brimming with tears, Dr. Loomis threw his arms around the girl whose tiny foot had changed his mind some seventeen years before and had lingered ever since in his memory.
“Please,” he said, in a tightening throat, “Please play “Silent Night” again, for me, won’t you.”
The young lady went immediately to the harp and played his request with beauty and brilliant skill. Dr. Loomis watched and listened, making no attempt to hide the emotion that flooded though him. The gloomy years past were now washed away and there was no longer any doubt in his mind. He had done the right thing that day in the delivery room.
(This is a cutting, shortened version, of the original story. It was cut to allow ample radio time for its use on “Haven of Rest” in 1979. The longer, full version, was published in the newsletter sent out by “Focus on the Family” in 1993. Since it is also found now on the internet, I decided I would not be breaking any copyright laws in publishing in here on The Shepherd’s Presence.)