Instead of Thanking God, Let’s Hear it for the Doctors July 24, 2012

Instead of Thanking God, Let’s Hear it for the Doctors

This is a guest post by Ryne P. Smith. Ryne lives in Chicago and is currently working on his undergrad in biology. He previous wrote for this site here.

In the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, we have heard a good deal about the 12 people who were killed. We have also heard some Christian perspectives about why it happened.

Not a lot has been said about the 58 people who were injured.

Petra Anderson was one of those people:

Petra Anderson

Three shotgun pellets hit Anderson’s arm and another went through her nose — riding up the back of her cranium and hitting the back of her skull.

The fact that Petra is alive today is amazing to say the least. Even the doctors were taken aback.

Now her family and pastor are calling her survival a “miracle.” Here’s her pastor talking about what he experienced at the hospital:

As Petra sleeps, [the surgeon] retells the story of the surgery, and we ask questions. The doctor reads the perfect script, as if he is on Hallmark Hall of Fame. He fills us in on the miracle. Honestly, he doesn’t call it that, he just uses words like “happily” and “wonderfully” and “in a very fortunate way” and “luckily” and “we were really surprised by that.” [Petra’s mother] Kim and I know a miracle when we see it.

The real reason for Petra’s survival is the prompt medical care that she received. The pastor even mentions this:

Petra is finally taken into surgery, using two different surgical teams. One team of neurosurgeons will open up the back of her skull to remove the bullet and clean up brain damage as best they can. Another ENT-specialty surgical team will then work through Petra’s nose by scope to follow the bullet’s path up into her brain. Their hope is to remove bone fragments, clean up damaged brain tissue, and reseal her brain to reduce infection.

But does he even once think to thank the doctors whose years of expertise saved a life? No. All credit goes to God:

In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.

I would ask this pastor where god was for the 12 who died.

Where was God for Jessica Ghawi who was present at a mall shooting in Toronto last month, but survived. She was killed Friday in the Aurora shooting. When she discussed it, she sounded like a Christian as well.

It is extremely disrespectful to the families of those who died to say that God gave someone who survived preferential treatment. What did God do for the ones who are no longer alive? Give them the middle finger?

The reality is that a tragedy occurred at the hands of a deranged gunman. Those who could be helped received the benefit of those men and women who have dedicated their lives to saving others’ lives.

God had nothing to do with it.

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  • There are only two options here: there is no god, and this is just something that happened (and which purely human ingenuity is working to repair), or god is the most disgusting, foul, rotten piece of corruption in the Universe.

    I opt for the first- although as a fiction, it’s hard to avoid the second.

  • rlrose328

    Agree completely.  To think any god had any hand in this fiasco is disgusting.  For that matter, who is to say that the gunman wasn’t guided by god to thin the herd?  Yes, that is a horrible thing to think… but just as feasible as a god who let 12 people die while this woman was pre-ordained to live.

  • Mairianna

    Thank you.  This is exactly how I feel about it.   “God’s prevenient grace” sure is feckin’ subjective! 

  • Michael

    Which hospital was it? Maybe we can start up a fundraiser.

  • Chris Kilroy

    Precisely my thoughts. Why did god have to be a jerk and let the others die of gunshot wounds, if he was clearly able to stop the bullet from taking their lives like he did for Petra Anderson? No. As humans, we struggle to understand why and how bad things happen to shatter our illusions that our world should be a peaceful, well-ordered place. We then have to find some explanation for that. We need to come to terms with the fact that the world is not a peaceful, well-ordered place and that s*** just happens. There is no reason for it necessarily. Bad shit happens to good people, good shit happens when we don’t expect it, and we can’t explain it all. Be happy for the good moments when they come so that you can hold onto those memories when the bad shit happens. 

  • Tainda

    People created a supreme being to help them through difficult and confusing times.  With our understandings in the modern age we don’t need that help anymore.  People are slowly but surely letting go but I don’t think it will ever be totally gone.

    I work in a hospital and my last position was in the Neurosurgery department.  Let me tell you, those doctors are AMAZING!  To not give them full credit is a disgrace.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    In Christianity we call it prevenient grace:

    In the real world we call that bollocks. What a disgusting comment to make. Does this person really believe that this god creature knew about this in advance, that it had it all planned, that it knew that so many would die and be injured, does he really believe all that and still believe that this god is somehow wonderful and deserving of worship? What a crock of shit!

  • The original article included this explanation about a brain defect that Petra was born with where there is essentially a fluid filled “path” in her brain, and by miracle of miracles, this path was the path the shot took as it passed through her brain.

    I would really like to hear the doctors involved (and not her pastor) explain this phenomena, and such. Even if every word he said is 100% accurate, I’m not buying the “god diddit!” miracle story.

    That said I was a little disappointed you didn’t include that, as it’s the meat of his point.   Yes, Doctors were vital, but that she had a brain defect her entire life that guided a little piece of shot from a shotgun through her brain?  That’s neat coincidence even from an atheist position, just because it’s such damn lucky odds.

  • GregFromCos

    This young woman is an acquaintance of some of my relatives. 

    Needless to say my mother called last night to recount this story. To her credit, she left it at “isn’t that amazing”. We really do somewhat try to avoid the God topic, but she knows the rules. If she references it directly she gets a response from me. 🙂

    It got me to thinking last night about what a true miracle would have looked like in that theatre:

    1) The shooter had shot off 200 rounds into the crowd and not one person was injured.
    2) Or how about dozens shot, and each of them would be healed completely by now.
    3) How about everyone in the theatre is shot and killed, and then they come back to life. 

    Those would be miracles. The story I’ve read is just a coincidence. And don’t get me wrong, coincidences can be awesome! But to say this was a miracle, means that this God is a pretty heartless to intervene at this point, rather than earlier.

  • Glasofruix

    No silly, it was the devil. The devil and the gays obviously.

  • Best wishes to Petra and the other 57 people in recovery.  My heart goes out to them.

    It’s one thing to see the silver lining of a horrendous situation.  The small victories make events like this a little easier to process and collectively heal.  However, statements like, “It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.”  What. The. Hell?  Where does one even begin to dissect all the outrageous claims tied up in that?  What an insult to the doctors and the deceased.

  • Sioux

    What a disgusting, warped, perverted god these Christians have. So glad I live my life without one.

  • Did your mother’s tale line up with the pastors regarding this strange brain “anomaly?”   That’s the part that I’m most skeptical of, and I’ve learned not to listen to pastors on matters of science 😉

  • 1) The shooter had shot off 200 rounds into the crowd and not one person was injured.

    I think Quentin Tarantino has already been there…

  • Zendruid

    I find it easier to imagine that God compelled the shooter to stop the midnight worship of Batman.

  • TiltedHorizon

    Giacomo Leopardi, a poet and philosopher, believed despair to be predicated on hope for its existence.  This is the impression I have held of god for the last 20 years, a great inspiration for despair predicated on the hope of fulfillment which, like a dangling carrot, is kept out of reach in *this* life. I assume this is the inspiration for “prevenient grace”, it’s the only way to convince oneself that for a brief moment they almost, by mere microns, grasped the carrot and brushed divinity. Sad.

  • TiltedHorizon

    I would have been happy with 70 misfires.

  • GregFromCos

    Yes. Although she called it a brain defect. But to be fair, she is an acquaintance only. So she is getting her info from the same 2 blog posts.

  • That’s first-rate ungratefulness, right there, treating doctors like God’s little interns. Apparently doing radical life-saving surgery is the equivalent of fetching coffee to these people.

  • Alan Christensen

    Some Christians can be such dicks at times like this.

  • The family has already started a fundraiser for the medical costs of Petra and other survivors’ families.

  • GregFromCos

    I totally agree.  My understanding is she was doing very well before she even went into surgery. In my opinion, this story is much more about the fact that long shot coincidences do happen.

  • Annie

    “In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future.” 

    This right here infuriates me (and I don’t get infuriated easily).  This idea that god saves people “for a reason”, or as part of his greater plan puts an enormous amount of psychological pressure on the survivor of any accident or illness. 

    And those that don’t survive?  Is it because god  knew their future and saw no promise at all?  Or just a ho-hum existence, so he couldn’t be bothered?  The concept of a god picking and choosing as part of his plan is insulting to the survivors and victims alike. 

  • If you read the article to the end, there’s one more nasty surprise.  God saved Anderson from death (although not from four gunshot wounds, and if the surgeons, nurses, staff or hospital had been a little less good she’d still have died of her wounds) but he’s still killing her mom with cancer.
    Why?  Well, he works in mysterious ways.  Duh.

    Believing in that god is nonsensical to me, but believing in him and worshipping him anyway is crazy.

  • Sfugly

    Does a great football defense always stop the opponent from scoring? Does a pitcher always throw a perfect game? No theist will say “God” is perfect.  

  • Actually, credit was given to the doctors and nurses who helped. “Tears and thank you’s abound. We are so thankful for these men and women.” That is taken directly from the wordpress story and is referring to the doctors and nurses. Now, they do go on and give God tons of credit which does make me mad but, it’s not like they don’t give the doctors any credit at all.

  • Kodie

    I got in an argument a long time ago with a woman who believed in angels. I forget exactly the story but there was an accident waiting to happen that would have killed or injured a child if not for an adult (maybe that person) spontaneously checking on the sleeping child and removing the danger. One of my relatives died of SIDS. And yet, I’m the monster for pointing out that it was a lucky coincidence and angels don’t exist. This argument went on for weeks or months, and all these people thinking I’m an asshole and arguing me down for having a death in my family (and that’s all too bad and all, but angels exist), that I’m being insensitive to point out that angels don’t exist and that it’s horribly insensitive to other people to suggest or defend that they do. The kid didn’t even get hurt, and grown adults going on and on that I have to allow them their fantasy version of events in an everyday situation in which someone didn’t die or even get hurt, but could have – BUT DIDN’T.

    This story also reminds me of the ongoing story of Aimee Copeland, the Georgia woman who was infected with a flesh-eating bacteria after cutting her leg after falling from a broken zipline. While she could have died, she didn’t, and she lost all her limbs. Her father credits god and prayer. I just have to shake my head at the god who created flesh-eating bacteria and broke the zipline in order for her to be saved in a situation that would certainly be fatal not too long ago, without her arms or legs, and with other injuries she is recovering from. I have also read some articles mentioning her refusal of morphine, as it conflicts with her convictions, and some reliance on “holistic” medicines.

    The prayer gave them great comfort, but the couple believes prayer has
    done even more. They believe faith in God has healed their daughter, and
    they cite her medical progress as proof.

    I can understand using belief as a lever in such an extreme event, where one might be depressed, and she is acting fully brave and recovering well, so of course I’m an asshole for even bringing it up.

    “The words I hear from the medical professionals to describe Aimee’s
    continued recovery are ‘astonishing, incredible, confounding, mind
    boggling, and unbelievable,’ ” Copeland wrote on Aimee’s Facebook page
    on May 12. “My favorite word is miracle.”

  • Randomfactor

    You don’t hang around many theists, I assume?

  • Glasofruix

    Except that for an omnipotent being supposed to watch and listen to 7 bilion people at all times he seems to be on the impotent side of things.

  • Tom

    The odds of getting killed in a random public shooting almost immediately after surviving another one must be comparable to those of surviving a shotgun pellet through the brain.  Why does only one event get called miraculous?  I’m sure most people will accept the notion of random chance easily enough for the former , so why do so many of them have such trouble dealing with the latter?

  • Kingasaurus

    My experience is that these people think God is behind both scenarios – even if they only call one  a”miracle.”. As if it was “her time” to die or something. Like God tried to kill her (ahem…”call her home”) in the first shooting, but because she resourcefully escaped, he “got her” later in another shooting. They don’t actually put it that starkly, but that’s the obvious implication.

    It’s twisted, but it’s just something people say and/or think without really analyzing what they’re thinking/saying.

  • I’ll “believe Gawd has healed their daughter” when her arms and legs grow back.

    Until then she just had some great doctors working on her.

    Your gawd is a pretty ham-fisted bumbler, Sfugly, you know that? That, or he’s one sadistic sonofabitch.

  • Kodie

    I’m not the best person to explain statistics to anyone, but something with extremely low odds of happening still happen. Nobody ever believes such an unlikely coincidence will happen to them, therefore “god” and “personal savior” and “purpose” and “miracles”. When someone survives something with a 5% survival rate, well, that’s where they get the 5% figure from. We are all moving around the earth with each other and sometimes some of us hit something just hard enough to not die. That’s not a miracle, that’s on the grade between almost hitting it and dying from the impact.

     What gets me, I think this came up recently here or on another blog, when disaster strikes: people who credit god when nobody died; people who credit god when only a few people died; and people who still credit god when he kills almost everyone, but a few make it out alive.

    There in this situation – one gunman shoots 70 people and about 17% die. 12 people. All over America, the same day, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest more than 12 homicides at 100% fatality each. This is an unusual and brutal massacre, it’s not a hold-up or a domestic argument out of control.. there is an apparent serial killer in LA?

    People find it both easy and difficult to believe god is anywhere but where they are. I think this was something I could never manage to understand, as much as I ever tried to. God is “prevenient” for this woman but out to get another one. He’s concentrated so much power on this one event, but he’s also everywhere else, drunk people putting their keys in the ignition, drowning toddlers, catching autistic girls falling from window ledges instead of.. blocking the fucking window? “Mysterious” statistical coincidences and accidents: sometimes someone doesn’t get the treatment they need and they become dramatic and homicidal. Sometimes just one or the other or something else. Not a good combination, but hopefully a rare one, a statistically small chance of happening every once in a while. We suck as a society for understanding how the brain works and how it can malfunction so devastatingly. A good look at how people are prone to credit god whenever, focus on the heroes, survivors and victims; to shun the murderer as an evil person who doesn’t deserve any attention (his illness and what caused this certainly does need more attention if we wish to prevent horrifying events like this); and distractions about the gun debate and trying to find something to blame him for going over the edge – his illness, blame his illness. It’s not movies or evolution or video games or his mother. It’s like, even when people analyze this stuff somehow rationally, overlook the obvious. When it boils right down to it, people want an easy answer and banning costumes at movies is easier than figuring out how brains work and don’t sometimes work. Evident in this: people’s brains not working to comprehend that low statistical outcomes are still possible hardly ever, but are not, in fact, miracles from god.

  • yes, it comes down to disrespect. real people worked really hard to accomplish an amazing result. at the very least they should be thanked and noted first. the sky fairy can wait. 

  • luck =/= an all knowing, all powerful “all loving” power that controls the fate of the entire universe. that’s not too hard to understand, is it? most atheists have no problem with chance and “luck,” but to stretch that into the believers gods is a bridge way, way too far. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    You don’t know many theists then. Celestia’s “perfection” is one of the core tenets of Christianity. Hence the “God works in mysterious ways” line when people question situations such as Aurora.  

  • Nhills

    He  (pastor) almost speaks about the doctors with DISTAIN… they helped that woman’s LIFE for Pete’s sake. I can understand believing in God and miracles… but DISTAIN for the DOCTORS? I don’t even…

  • Ray

    I am an 81 yr old Marine vet of the Korean War. at 15 I decided religions were just wrong about it. so i was an atheist in a fox hole. there were seveeral more i met later that served with me. in my life i’ve been successful in raising a family, operating a business, and keeping my views to myself. i have always resented prohbitions by government based on religious dogma, such as the Blue Laws, laws governing the sale of alcohol.

    I personally consider homosexuality a genetically created abnormality. but I also respect Martin Lutheer King’s suggestion that we judge others by the content of their mind. That makes relationships with others very easy. mutual respect and treat others as you wish to be trated.

    I am delighted to see the movement towards rational thought at every level.

    Ray L. Walker
    Franklin, TN

  • Kodie

    Death by assault (homicide) for 2009:


    All homicides

    Number of deaths: 16,799Deaths per 100,000 population: 5.5Cause of death rank: 15

    Firearm homicides

    Number of deaths: 11,493Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.7

  • Brudder

     Clearly the ones that die weren’t ‘real’ christians, or maybe they didn’t pray hard enough, or pray the right way, maybe they were even attending the wrong church.  I’m so sick of this miracle crap and ‘god’s will’ bullshit; and this pastor seems to be one of the truly stupid to say that this was all known ahead of time but for some reason a 6 year old needed to die instead of being spared.  On second thought he’s not that much stupider than any other person making this argument.  Fuck you and  fuck your god.

  • My favorite example of “statistical unlikeliness does not imply miracle” is the Powerball.  Roughly a one-in-one hundred and ninety-six million chance of any one ticket hitting the jackpot, and yet the jackpot gets hit typically every month or so.  Are there really twelve miracles a year?  Or is just that for any infinitesimally-small probability of something happening, as number of chances that thing has of happening approaches infinity, the chance of it happening once becomes significantly large?

  • Ken

    Final Destination, dude.

  • Kodie

    Weirdly, I think people partially understand that those are very long odds. I’m not sure they comprehend exactly how long those odds are, as demonstrations I’ve found on youtube, etc., just make it so much more dismal.

    Where it really catches people is in the small day-to-day things, the close timing, the near misses. Something was about to kill me but I jumped out of the way just in time, because that’s the sort of thing that never happens. I don’t think people understand how many people do die or suffer injury from accidents, falls, etc., and how many people are, say, 5-10 feet away from a potential fatality as opposed to right next to it, or how their brains activate quick responses.  Even people who have been injured in an accident are sure that it should have killed them, and in many cases it would have, but not all. I’m not even sure I understand it all, as a lot of people have some scenario where they sensed to stop or go quicker right at the right time, as if their senses had access to let their brain know information they could not consciously realize before it was all over. And then again, most people have been injured, however slightly, by not reacting fast enough or reacting as fast but, hey, circumstances, and maybe it could have been worse… statistically between it not happening at all and having a much worse outcome always seems to amaze people. I think that being one of 12 people getting killed in a mass murder scenario has a hardly ever chance of happening (statistically a “miracle”), while getting killed by one person who only wants to kill you right then has a much greater chance of happening.

  • SteveS

    I am glad she survived and had such wonderful surgeons. The problem is, if I read this correctly, she had brain damage – behind the nose and in the back of the skull. This is not like fixing a liver laceration where it can completely regenerate, or losing a kidney where you have a backup… The brain heals by scarring. She lost function. She probably lost her sense of smell as well as her hypothalamus and pituitary. She probably has lost part of her cerebellum and likely some sight. She can have bone infections in the sinuses and skull and brain infections. She will likely have a course like Rep. Giffords – long and difficult. Miracle? A miracle would have been if god had teleported the individual who did this into a psychiatric hospital minus his guns, before he fired a shot. 

  • Annie

     Ray-  I’m just impressed with your mastery of the internets. 😉  Welcome.

  • Annie

     I don’t know much about the placement of the bullet (or the specifics of brain function for that matter) but I wondered if she might have some paralysis as well?  Regardless, she is certainly in for a long recovery.  I am so happy for Petra and her family, but in the months to come, I wonder how much they will see this as a “miracle”, as it will surely be a struggle.

  • Kodie

    Was that for someone else?

  • Joseph

    So you’re comparing your god to a baseball pitcher or a defensive lineup in football?  Wow, kind of a low benchmark for a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient being, wouldn’t you say?  I always pictured him as an old man with a white beard and a robe; I guess I’ll need to recalibrate that image to that of a 25-year-old guy wearing a jersey with a chaw of tobacco in his celestial cheek.

  • Gunstargreen

    There were other survivors on the news with the exact same type of  “God saved me” story. Whatever helps them get over the tragedy I guess. 

    Still, I could never personally believe I was worth saving more than the people who died. It’s amazingly selfish and self-centered that they think their life was more important in some cosmic way than those who were killed.

  • Kodie

    Just seems warped to me. I’ve been in potentially injurious or fatal situations, and never said god saved me. I was on the 2nd floor of a burning building, and I don’t know who saved me, he was the parking lot attendant who ran like a bullet from the far end, hurdled the fence like it wasn’t there, and helped me and my neighbor climb over to the fire escape on the adjacent building (there was no fire escape on my building). Then he disappeared and went back to his job, and I forgot to thank him. The fire dept. at the time was on the roof and in the front of the building, and I don’t think we would have gotten out without the parking lot attendant, whose name I don’t know, and that’s not to diminish the help given freely by other people in the neighborhood. Other people might say thank god there was a parking lot, or thank god we were only on the 2nd floor, thank god I had to get a tetanus shot, or thank god for my own voice to scream “Fire!” where someone capable of running could hear it. To put everything that happens into a framework that seems to consist of god staging a play is so… takes the humanity out of humanity! We’re just puppets, we’re programmed robots, we’re all where we’re “supposed to be” at all times, no matter what happens. And yet life is precious, life is for the glory of god, life is for circling back to the inevitable praise to the director even if the show stinks. No humanity in that. It’s license to be an asshole.

  • Kingasaurus

     By the way, what was Ted Bundy’s guardian angel doing when he was murdering all those women? Standing there twiddling its thumbs?

    Maybe it won several invisible fights with the guardian angels of the victims, and that’s why the murders happened?

    Maybe Ted’s G.A. did its level best helping Ted escape police detection after each murder?

    Again, more examples of people just believing things for warm fuzzy reasons without seriously thinking of the implications and questions that should naturally arise if their silly belief was actually true.

  • Dianne Droogh

    Thank God that all the people who were involved were conceived in the first place, were given the brains to do what they do, were given the idea study what they do, the job they have, the hands they use. Whatever or whoever your God may be…just thank the fact that these people were put on this earth and are using the gifts that are “God given”.

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