Atheist in a foxhole

I hope this is not too far off task, but two years ago, on June 4, 2011, at approximately 8 a.m., I took my wife to the emergency room. I did not bring her home again till November 18.

On the fourth day in the hospital (and the second in the intensive care unit), a young infectious-disease specialist decided to treat her for encephalitis and ask questions later. The diagnosis was confirmed in a couple of days: HSV-1 encephalitis. Complications, including nearly fatal pneumonia, followed, and my wife remained in a semi-conscious state for around two months, ultimately sporting four tubes sticking out of various locations.

A very good friend, whom the nurses knew as That Doctor Who Always Visits, came in and looked at the chart every day. One morning, he was leaving just as I was arriving. “I wish I could pray,” he remarked. “Yes,” I said, “but God – that is, the god that we do not believe in – would not respond to such prayers anyway.” That Doctor agreed, God would not allow someone to become sick and then effect a cure just because someone asked. Surely, God, who already knew our feelings, would not be so capricious as that.

And indeed, I did not once pray to God or bargain with God (or anyone else) during the entire ordeal. Contrary to something I once wrote (here, p. 166), there are atheists in foxholes.

I never saw the infectious-disease specialist again; I think she was there that day to substitute for her partner. Was she an angel? No; she was a well-trained physician evaluating her evidence. My wife’s survival (with all of her marbles) is nevertheless a miracle: a modern medical miracle. God had nothing to do with it.