An Essay on Death; An Unrelated Boa Constrictor Tale

Death, the Enemy

As a doctor working at a mission hospital in Honduras, death is, unfortunately, not an uncommon event.

Whether, it’s a teenager in a motorcycle accident with a terrible head injury, a newborn baby with underdeveloped lungs, or an elderly patient with terminal cancer, kidney disease, or severe COVID, we do our best to help everyone, but all too often in such cases, death comes on relentlessly. Sometimes, by the time a patient comes to us, the damage or disease is so far gone that no hospital anywhere could change the fact that the patient will shortly die. Other times expensive and resource intense things like dialysis, targeted chemotherapy, or an advanced-image guided intervention could be used to buy a patient more time if only the patient or their family could afford to go and get them (but they cannot). So between resource limitations, the remoteness of our hospital, the scarcity of preventative care, and the inevitability of death itself, at Hospital Loma de Luz we are called to discuss death and dying with unfortunate frequency.

Ever since my mother died of metastatic breast cancer; dying well, specifically equipping my patients to do so, has become very important to me. My mother had great doctors, great support, and she had clear spiritual insight. Ultimately she died in a way that my brother described best- victoriously. As I’ve said before, if life is a long distance foot race, she held the pace throughout and sprinted the finish.

Because my mom taught me to value finishing well, giving my patients the opportunity of dying well is important to me. Because of this, I talk very clearly about medical prognosis. If they have a relationship in disrepair or spiritual work that needs to be done, they need to know if there’s a time crunch. I do not want my patients or their families to be caught unawares because I faltered in speaking the truth with love.

I realize this urgency is a cultural and personal value. I try to be sensitive to when it might be best to not force this conversation, nevertheless it’s very rare that I haven’t talked about death clearly beforehand.

So imagine my surprise when time after time a family member with whom I have spoken many times about an imminent death, begins hysterically crying and screaming after a slow and clear process of dying ends in death.

For a time this frustrated me. Had I not communicated clearly enough what was going on to allow the patients and their families time to prepare? What could I do differently?

Then, one night, watching a mother sobb as she cradled her dead newborn, I had an epiphany. We were not created to know death. When God shaped our first parents, Adam and Eve, death was not part of His design. Whether we show it outwardly or not, we have a primordial reaction when death comes near. Something inside us screams, “This should not be!” And that reaction – is right.

As Christians we can intellectually accept that Christ has taken the sting out of death for those who believe. But we must confess, we long for that last enemy, death, to be utterly defeated, for death and sickness to be no more.

The Boa

Anyways, enough profound thoughts (but speaking of primordial things and our first parents)… The other night our chickens were squalking with unusual frequency and panic so I went out to investigate. To my horror, I found this seven foot boa trying to decide which chicken he wanted to eat after enjoying their eggs. With a valiant will I immediately ran inside to grab my blow gun, a machete, and a putter. I also asked my wife to come and bear witness to my bravery. With such skill you might think I was raised in a rain forest – I encapcitated the terrible foe with my blow gun from point blank range outside the coop (thank you, Carter Whittier and all my college roommates, for your help in my mastery of this skill). Immediately, (we’ve been reading through the Gospel of Mark and his constant use of this word is rubbing off on me) I entered the coop warring against my inner revulsion for the slithering monstrosity that writhed with impotent anger due to the multiple metal darts running through his head, jaw, and body. After taking the picture below, I used the putter to pull the constrictor’s surprisingly heavy coiled body from my chicken’s nesting box. Then I stuck with my machete, bringing to bear all my force – about sixteen times – and I mostly decapitated him (let’s say my machete was dull). My wife bravely illuminated the prolonged conflict and offered pointers and witty critique of my technique.

We have a rule on the hill. We do not kill obviously non-venomous snakes. But there are two exceptions to this rule:
1) If the snake is big enough to strangle and or eat a small child – it shall be killed.
2) If the snake comes inside the house – it too shall be killed

Snake trivia:
True or False – Boa constrictors give birth to live young

Rainy season is here and the rivers are a-risin’. We are thankful for an awesome sturdy vehicle to get us wherever we need to go.

Grace & Peace,

Dr. Nathan and Family

Trivia: True is the correct answer. Most constrictors along with vipers and few other snake species give birth to live young rather than hatching eggs.

P.S. The presidential election in Honduras occurred this past Sunday and we are very grateful that thus far things have remained peaceful. (The weeks following the last election 4 years ago were quite tumultuous.)

3 thoughts on “An Essay on Death; An Unrelated Boa Constrictor Tale”

  1. Thank you for all that you do to provide expert medical care and spiritual comfort to the living and those who time is waning. Again, thank you and your family for your dedication to serve your fellow man. God Bless

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  2. You are so brave Nathan! I thank God that He has equipped you to face such monstrous enemies of small children and chickens. Not sure that we could do it. Maybe God fills you with insight at the precise moment that you must face situations like this.   ~ Nana CathySent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

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  3. Thank you for sharing Nathan. I have always been quite fascinated by snakes, and actually have caught many in my time (mostly nonvenomous). I have never tangled with a Boa though; that was an impressively large snake!
    I hope you, Bethany, and the girls are all well, and you have a very Merry Christmas!
    Orando por ti! En Cristo, Lance

    Lance Plyler, MD
    SAMARITAN’S PURSE
    Medical Director | WORLD MEDICAL MISSION
    828-278-1905 | lplyler@samaritan.org
    SAMARITANSPURSE.ORG
    P.O. BOX 3000 | BOONE, NC 28607

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