"We should be fine"--how completely wrong, yet so prophetically correct. Denis Mee Lee and I were young, second-year medical students. At the beginning of a morning physiology lecture, in the tiered lecture room at the University of Queensland, the class representative had just announced that the first anatomy examination would be on Saturday, April 7.
He continued, "Are there any Seventh-day Adventists in the class?"
Dennis and I replied with our raised hands. It seemed we would be looked after.
But, on Friday morning, the first sickening blow landed with the posting of a typed program on the class noticeboard. The class was to attend the gross-anatomy examination on the upper and lower limbs on Saturday morning, in just eight days' time.
What had happened? Had we come to the end of the journey toward our careers in medicine? Next year's classes could not be taken without a pass in anatomy.
Saturday was a special part of our lives, part of the day of worship--the Sabbath. Holding this as an important part of our faith, Denis and I looked at each other with feelings of fear and hopelessness. Denis' church pastor had chaperoned us both all day for the previous year's Sabbath examination. Then he signed us in after sundown at the university office to write our papers. That examination had already been completed by the other 120 students earlier in the day. The university was good in regard to Saturday exams for those with conscientious religious beliefs. But this was Professor Hickey territory.
We had already witnessed Professor Max Hickey's humiliation of fellow students, who either arrived late for lectures ("Come sit down the front, son!") or who looked nonplussed at a personally directed question on the anatomical relation of some obscure tendon to a minor blood vessel in the wrist ("Were you asleep in yesterday's lecture as well as today's, Mr Johnston?").
"Let's see the Anatomy Department secretary for advice." And so we went, knowing this situation must have happened before. Seventh-day Adventists had passed this subject in years past. The advice was not what we wanted to hear. Professor Hickey would not be happy to change now. It was too late--don't even bother!
Now to push our case at a higher level. The adjoining office was that of the student-friendly anatomy department manager. Not an academic, he was the person we knew as the efficient caretaker of the hundreds of dissected specimens and cadavers. His response was our third obstacle. The preserved specimens could not be left out till the evening; nor could he be expected to put them away after the morning session, reposition them again for the evening, then put them back in storage. "Couldn't you get a dispensation from your pastor, just for April 7?" he asked. We left deflated.
Arriving home that evening should have been as pleasant as the cheery greetings of my parents. But, not having the heart to tell them of my predicament, I walked through to the back room and lay prostrate in tears. That Sabbath was long and sad but somewhere courage was renewed.
After the first lecture of Monday morning, Dennis and I sat at the top back row of the lecture theatre to discuss what to do. There we wrote individual letters to the feared Max Hickey, respectfully explaining our situation. We did want to sit the examination. We could not, with good conscience, do this practical examination on our Sabbath--but it was our wish to continue the course. Then together, we prayed and handed in the letters.
With just five days till the Sabbath examination we received personal letters from the professor. After reading a whole page describing the reasons the examination time could not be shifted, the second page concluded with two sentences, which read, "There is no question of our conducting the practical examination at other than the set time, because there is no alternative time available. This test is not a compulsory one, and if you do not sit for it you will lose no credit; but of course, you will gain no credit." That April 7 Sabbath, two Seventh-day Adventist medical students took their secret with them to church. It was a better day than we had expected. We were fine. We both passed the complete subject at year's end. And we both went on to successful careers in medicine in Australia, Asia and the United States.
God works in the most unusual ways and through the most unexpected people. Appreciation is acknowledged to both the late Professor Max Hickey and to God for their kindness in a difficult situation. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. Exodus 20:8-10. Percy Harrold is a retired church leader in health ministries, who now lives in Caloundra, Queensland.