Faith and grace carry this doctor through the challenge of healing patients in an overwhelmed healthcare system.
Anesthesiologist Néstor Ramírez Arrieta of Colombia takes advantage of every opportunity to pray the Rosary when he has a chance in his workday. A friend of his who is an Evangelical Protestant pastor, Luis Alberto Gallego, took a photo of him at prayer (protective gear and all) and shared it on Facebook with a moving message:
“This image of my great friend and brother, the doctor anesthesiologist Nestor Ramírez, breaks my heart. He, like many doctors, endures endless shifts, and very intense emotional pressure that many of us would not be able to sustain. Even so, in short moments of rest, he takes out his rosary and dedicates himself to prayer. Although we differ in the way we worship and pray, can anyone doubt that GOD hears this prayer?”
The post has thousands of likes, comments, and shares.
“I have no doubt: God hears our prayers. What [Jesus] liked most was to heal the sick, and I witness His presence daily. He acts through my hands. I ask him to use my ministry of healing, more so now that we are going through such a difficult situation,” Dr. Ramirez told Aleteia. He is one of the many professionals fighting to save lives in a country where COVID-19 has exacerbated the crisis in its health-care system.
“Do not be afraid; I am with you”
Doctors, nurses, and all health-care professionals are at high risk today, not only because of the danger of contagion, but also because of the shortcomings of the Colombian health system and the incomprehension of citizens who have stigmatized them, going so far as to threaten them with violence and even death. This seems counter-intuitive: Why would anyone treat health-care professionals poorly? But some people see health-care professionals as a possible source of illness or contagion, or think they’re “inventing” or exaggerating the disease and wrongfully keeping people from seeing their own family members.
Aware of this situation, Dr. Ramírez goes to work daily at the Mother Bernarda Clinic—run by a community of Franciscan Sisters—with the peace of mind that comes from being protected by the best weapons: prayer, the Eucharist, the Rosary, the Blood of Christ, and sacramentals. His days are filled with tensions, the struggle to save lives, precautions, recovered patients, the miracle of life, and constant prayer. He told Aleteia,
“A few days ago I had to perform a tracheostomy in the COVID ward. It was the second time I’ve felt great fear during the pandemic, but also great hope. After entering through a maze [of protective measures], being dressed by two people, having two overalls, masks, gloves and face masks, we performed the procedure, one of the ones that results in the greatest number of members of medical teams catching the disease. If people had the opportunity to see these images, they wouldn’t go out to the streets; they wouldn’t rush the reopening of economic sectors and they’d be more careful.”
When he finished the procedure, the doctor took advantage of the empty waiting room to read a passage from Bible. God’s message was clear and forceful: “Do not be afraid; I am with you.” It was enough to strengthen him and give him the peace of mind to continue operating.
Every grueling 24-hour shift and every operation is an opportunity for Dr. Ramirez to pray. He told Aleteia,
“Many patients, in spite of general anesthesia, have told me that they’ve felt something spiritual, a sensation difficult to describe. When I see they’re in danger, I pray for them, and they feel it. It’s God working through my hands.”
The Rosary, a faithful companion
The life of Néstor Ramírez is divided in two halves: before and after coming to know Christ. His spiritual journey of 18 years allows him to evangelize while practicing medicine. It hasn’t been easy. At first, some people made fun of him and asked for his “blessing,” but little by little his co-workers realized that he’s a true man of faith. He described his journey of faith over the past years,
“After a family crisis and a worldly life, I had the opportunity to feel I was face to face with God on a day of loneliness. I began to attend prayer groups, I let myself be guided by spiritual advisors, I returned to the Eucharist, I began to study the life of the Virgin Mary, and I began to love the Rosary, a faithful companion in my professional life, to the point where I pray between 5 and 10 every day.”
The prayers of his wife, Maria Bernarda Lopez, helped his conversion. They have been married for 36 years, and they feel that God has walked beside them throughout their life together. God supports their family, which includes their three children and one grandchild.
Meanwhile Néstor is never far from an operating room:
“In spite of the difficulties in exercising my profession, I will continue to help so many sick people who beg for help, because I work for God and not for men. I will continue as long as He gives me strength.”