"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
This is the fifth and final instalment of Dr. Sutherland’s account of his 1923 visit to Lourdes.
Do miracles happen at Lourdes? Here is the record of an attested case of advanced pulmonary tuberculosis.
Amélie Hérbert, aged 43, married, had enteritis and measles in infancy and was delicate up to the age of 12. Every winter she was treated with cod-liver oil Between 12 and 15 had frequent attacks of bronchitis. Married at 18. Of her four children, one died at two months of inanition [exhaustion owing to prolonged lack of nourishment], another at three years of tuberculosis peritonitis, and another of tubercular meningitis. When 33 she spent two months in hospital on account of bronchitis. At 38 she had hemorrhage from the lung and was under treatment for four years without improving.
In August 1900, at the age of 42, she was pale, feeble, and very thin. There was loss of appetite and frequent vomiting. She had a cough with over eight ounces of sputum per day. The sputum contained tubercle bacilli in large numbers. Breath sounds were diminished at both apices, and in the right lung were signs of a large cavity . These were the signs and symptoms noted by Dr. La Neéle of Lisieux before the patient set out for Lourdes. During the journey she had several attacks of hæmorrage and fainting. Arriving at Lourdes on 21st August she was medically examined, and the Lourdes doctors found her so feeble that they advised her not to enter the bath. In addition to tubercle of the lungs she had a sore, following a carbuncle on one hip. The patient insisted on bathing. On entering the bath she felt an intolerable pain throughout the body. This was followed by a sense of well-being, and she believed she was cured. The sore on her hip had healed instantly leaving a reddish scar. Her cough, expectoration, and vomiting ceased, and appetite was restored.
When she returned to Lisieux, Dr. La Neéle found some slight signs of consolidation in the lungs, but at the end of a few weeks these signs disappeared. At the end of six weeks he managed to obtain a little sputum. No tubercle bacilli were present. The patient rapidly regained strength and weight. She resumed her work of carrying stones, and despite a life of poverty and hard work there was no relapse. Seven years later Dr. La Neéle tested her with tuberculia. An injection of 0.01 cc. old tuberculia gave neither a local nor a febrile reaction. Two days later he gave her 0.025 cc. There was no reaction. This absence of reaction excluded the presence of active or even of active of even of latent tuberculosis. [See: Medical Proof of the Miraculous, by E. Le Bec. Translated from the French by Dom H. E. Izard, O.S.B. London, 1922, p.190]
In ordinary medical experience these results could have been obtained by a course of tuberculin treatment, which would take at least a year to administer. In ordinary experience active tuberculosis is never arrested in a second of time. At Lourdes the process is natural, in place of disease scar tissue remains, but — the time factor is abolished. That is the miracle. How does it happen? Under deep hypnosis the mind can induce extraordinary changes in the tissues. Tell the patient that the back of his hand is to be touched with a red-hot poker. The skin is then touched with a pencil — and a blister appears as after a burn. It may well be that a supernatural force, by which I mean a force extraneous to ourselves, may so influence the subconscious mind that disease is healed in the twinkling of an eye. At Lourdes the cures are often accompanied by a flash of pain. At all events in this belief there is nothing repugnant to reason. Nor are such cures confined to Lourdes. They may occur in a Methodist chapel. The point is that they do happen. Sir John Bland Sutton has recorded the spontaneous disappearance of indisputable cancer. That was also a miracle.
As a rationalist I say the only unreasonable people are sceptics like Anatole France, who said: “Supposing an amputated limb were instantly restored at some sacred shrine, one should not look to miracle as an explanation. An observer of a truly scientific spirit would not say, ‘There is a miracle!’ He would say: ‘An observation, hitherto unique, lends to the belief that in certain circumstances, up to the present undermined, the tissues of the human limbs have the power to grow another limb like the claws of the crab — but much more rapidly. It is a natural occurrence.'”
When a man writes in that fashion argument becomes impossible because language has ceased to have any meaning. Bernadette was wiser that us all. When asked to explain the Vision, she said: “I am not learned and I cannot discuss it. I have told you what takes place at Massabielle, and you yourselves must decide what to think of it.”From “A Time to Keep” (1934).
That was the fifth and final instalment of Dr. Sutherland’s account of his 1923 visit to Lourdes. To go to the first instalment, click here.
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