Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.


January 29, 2010

My Favorite St. Thomas Aquinas Story


As my sister shared her favorite story for the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas yesterday, I will share mine. It is not a story of his life, per se - not his earthly life. It is a conversion story of a man who saw St. Thomas in a dream. It is powerful. I will post the majority of this story here, because you need to read the whole thing to feel its affect!

Stojan Adasevic will never forget the day he was organizing the filing cabinet in the doctors' room. He was a medical student at the time. A number of gynecologists entered the room. Paying no attention to the student crouched over a pile of papers in the corner, they began swapping stories about their medical practice.

Before long he had surpassed his master in the profession — Dr. Ignatovic, to whose incompetence he owed his life. "The secret lies in training the hand through frequent procedures" he would say, citing the German proverb: Übung macht Meister (practice makes perfect). Faithful to this maxim, he would perform from twenty to thirty abortions a day. His record was thirty-five abortions in one day. Today he has difficulty reckoning up the abortions he performed in his twenty-six years of practice. He estimates anywhere between 48,000 and 62,000.

For years he remained convinced that abortion, as taught in the medical faculties and textbooks, was a surgical procedure not unlike that of removing an appendix. The only difference was in the organ removed: a piece of intestine in the one case, and embryonic tissue in the other. Doubts began to arise during the 1980s when ultrasound technology came to Yugoslavian hospitals. It was then that Adasevic first saw on the USG monitor what had until then been invisible to him — the inside of a woman's womb, a live child, sucking its thumb, moving its arms and legs. As often as not, fragments of that child would soon be lying on the table beside him. "I saw without seeing — he recalls today. — Everything changed after I started having the dreams"…

Dr. Adasevic's dreams

Actually, it was the same recurring dream. It haunted him every night, day after day, week after week, month after month. He dreamed he was walking in a sunlit meadow. Beautiful flowers grew all around. The air was thick with colored butterflies. It was warm and pleasant, yet, despite this, some anxious feeling oppressed him. Suddenly the meadow was filled with laughing and running children. They were playing ball. In age, they ranged from three or four to about twenty years. All were strikingly beautiful. One boy in particular, and two of the girls, seemed strangely familiar, but he could not recall where he had seen them. When he tried to speak to them, they ran off in terror, screaming. The entire scene was presided over by a man in a black habit who watched intently in silence.

Every night Adasevic would wake in terror and stay awake till morning. Herbal remedies and pills were useless. One night, he became distraught in his dream and began chasing the fleeing children. He caught one of them, but the child cried out in terror: "Help! Murderer! Save me from the murderer!" At that moment the man dressed in black, turned into an eagle, swept down, and pulled the child away. The doctor woke up, his heart thumping like a hammer in his ribs. The room was cold, yet he was hot, drenched in sweat. In the morning he decided to see a psychiatrist. Since there were no immediate openings, he booked an appointment. That night he decided he would ask the man in his dreams to identify himself. This he did. The stranger said: "Even if I told you, my name would mean nothing to you". When the doctor persisted, the man finally replied: "I am called Thomas Aquinas". Indeed, the name meant nothing to Adasevic. It was the first time he had heard it. The man in black continued: "Why don't you ask who the children are. Don't you recognize them?" When the doctor said he didn't, he replied: "Not true. You know them very well. These are the children you killed while performing abortions". "How is that possible?" countered Adasevic. "These are grown children. I have never killed born children". Thomas replied: "Do you not know that here, on this side of the eschaton, children continue to grow?" The Doctor refused to yield: "But I have never killed a twenty-year-old boy". "You killed him twenty years ago" replied the monk, "when he was three months old".

It was then that Adasevic recognized the faces of the twenty-year-old boy and the two girls. They resembled people he knew well, for whom he had performed abortions over the years. The boy looked like a close friend of Adasevic's. Stojan had performed the abortion on his wife twenty years ago. In the two girls the doctor recognized their mothers, one of whom happened to be Stojan's cousin. Upon awaking, he decided he would never perform another abortion in his life.

I held a beating heart in my hand

Waiting for him upon his arrival at the hospital that morning was a cousin along with his girlfriend. They had booked an abortion with him. Four months pregnant, the woman was about to do away with her ninth consecutive child. Adasevic refused, but his cousin was so importunate that he gave in: OK, but this was the very last time. On the USG monitor he clearly saw the child with its thumb in its mouth. Stretching the uterus, he inserted the forceps, took hold of something, and pulled. In the jaws of the forceps was a little arm. He placed it on the table, but in such a way that one of the limbs' nerve endings touched a drop of spilled iodine. Suddenly, the arm began to twitch. The nurse standing beside him almost screamed out. Just like frogs' legs in a physiology lab! Adasevic shuddered, but went on with the abortion. Again he inserted the forceps, gripped, and pulled. This time it was a leg. Just as he was thinking: "Better not let it touch that drop of alcohol", a nurse standing behind him dropped a tray of surgical instruments. Startled by the crash, the doctor released the forceps, and the leg landed right beside the arm. It too began to move.

The staff had never seen anything like it: human limbs twitching on the table. Adasevic decided to mash up what was left in the womb, and pull it out in a formless mass. He began mashing, squashing, crushing. Upon withdrawing the forceps, now certain that he had reduced everything to a pulp, he produced a human heart! The organ was still beating. Weaker and weaker it beat, until it stopped altogether. It was then that he realized he had killed a human being. The world turned dark around him. He cannot recall how long this lasted. Suddenly he felt a tug on his arm. A nurse's terrified voice called out: Doctor Adasevic! Doctor Adasevic! The patient was bleeding. For the first time in years, the doctor began praying earnestly: "Lord! Save not me, but this woman". Normally it could take up to ten minutes to clean the womb of all remaining embryonic matter. This time two insertions of the instrument through the vagina were enough to complete the task. When Adasevic removed his gloves, he knew this was the last abortion he would ever perform.

The pail: instrument of abortion

When Stojan informed the head of the hospital of his decision, there was a considerable stir. Never before in a Belgrade hospital had a gynecologist refused to perform abortions. Pressure was brought to bear on him. They cut his salary in half. His daughter was fired from her job. His son "failed" his university entrance examinations. He was attacked in the press and on television. The Socialist State — they said — had provided him with an education so that he could perform abortions, and now he was carrying out sabotage against the State. Two years of persecution brought him to the brink of nervous exhaustion. He was on the point of asking the hospital administrator to reassign him to abortion duty, when Thomas Aquinas appeared to him in a dream. Patting him on his shoulder, Thomas said: "You are my good friend. Continue your struggle". Adasevic did not go to the administrator. He decided to fight on.

He got involved in the pro-life movement. He traveled throughout Serbia, lecturing and giving talks on abortion. Twice he succeeded in airing on Yugoslav state television Bernard Nathanson's The Silent Scream, a USG recording of an actual abortion. In the early 1990s, thanks largely to Adasevic's activism, the Yugoslav parliament passed a decree protecting the rights of the unborn.

1 comment:

La Italiana said...

I love this one, too!

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