remembering the 4077th

I was among the 125 million viewers of the M*A*S*H television series that ran from September 1972 to February 1983. Team members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital treated the injured during the Korean War. To cope with this very difficult assignment, they used a variety of methods such as humor and alcohol to escape from the horror and depression of the situation. While the show was traditionally viewed as a comedy, many episodes were very serious and dealt with life and death issues, including PTSD and compassion fatigue. The show could change from silly to sobering very quickly.

Although most people my age and even younger can quickly remember and hum the show’s theme song, it is amazing how few actually know the lyrics to the song or that the sub title to the theme from M.A.S.H. is “Suicide Is Painless”.  The following partial lyrics give you a sense of how many feel and want to cope when faced with the difficulties of life.

Through early morning fog I see

visions of the things to be

the pains that are withheld for me

I realize and I can see...

that suicide is painless

it brings on many changes

and I can take or leave it if I please.

The game of life is hard to play

I'm gonna lose it anyway

The losing card I'll someday lay

         so this is all I have to say   

The only way to win is cheat

And lay it down before I'm beat

and to another give my seat

for that's the only painless feat.

A brave man once requested me

to answer questions that are key

is it to be or not to be

and I replied 'oh why ask me?'

'Cause suicide is painless

it brings on many changes

and I can take or leave it if I please.

Samaritan's Purse responded to the major earthquake in Ecuador by sending down an Emergency Field Hospital (SPEFH). I had (have) the opportunity to serve at this hospital for two weeks and reflect on the similarities and differences between the two. Life and death at the MASH 4077th had many fascinating aspects, as does life and death at the SPEFH.

The similarities include an up close and personal exposure to life and death, long hard working conditions, limited resources, people who are physically, emotionally, and spiritually hurting, etc.

At the same time, there are some stark differences between the MASH unit and the SPEFH unit.

The differences between the 4077th and the SPEFH include hospital staff motives and attitudes, ways of coping with the tragedy they’re being faced with, and most importantly, a better option than suicide. The better option was demonstrated early one morning when a man was brought in to the hospital after attempting to “lay down his card before he was beat”. The SPEFH staff quickly responded and saved his physical life. However, they also were prepared to “answer questions that are key, is it to be or not to be”.

The earthquake was devastating to this young man, as it was with all others, in many ways.  He finally got to the point where he wanted to end it all. In contrast to the ending of the MASH theme song, instead of responding with “oh why ask me”, the caring and sensitive hospital staff shared how there is hope in the midst of loss and tragedy.  By God’s grace, this man understood his need and surrendered his life to the forgiveness and gift of life that is only found in Jesus Christ.

His story is one of many that we have seen at the SPEFH.  Although “the game of life is hard to play” and many have suffered greatly here in Ecuador, God is bringing hope and healing and changing brokenness to life. May we say like Paul, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  II Tim. 4:7