[This is part of a blog series of illustrations and analogies for medical substitutionary atonement.]
This photo is Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane (April 6, 1861 – April 1, 1932) operating on himself at the age of 60. He is removing his own appendix. He did this on February 15, 1921. The reports I’ve read do not indicate that his appendix had ruptured. He didn’t need to remove it. He just wanted to remove it. Why?
Dr. Kane believed that general anesthesia, which was always used in this procedure before, was more dangerous than local anesthesia. He was treating other patients who had health conditions that made general anesthesia problematic. In this case, the general anesthesia was ether. Some patients could not be treated that way. But before Dr. Kane could prove that local anesthesia worked on his patients, he decided to be his own patient. In a sense, he loved his patients enough that he decided to become one of them. He wanted to experience surgery from the patient’s perspective.
Dr. Kane performed the operation with mirrors to enable him to see the work area. At this time, the appendix operation was much more major than today. Today, we use a modern keyhole surgery technique. Back then, the incision was much larger. Happily, Dr. Kane was well enough to be taken home the following day. (“Dr. Kane Recovering”, New York Times, February 17, 1921, p.6)
Now Dr. Kane performed many surgeries on people after that using local anesthesia. Of course, those were acts of love and service to other people. And yet, the surgery he performed on himself was the starting point, the source. It was the decisive moment, the focal point, and the source from which Dr. Kane performed every other surgery. He took the greatest risk on himself first. Every other surgery was an aspect of that surgery, a hint of it, a shadow of the surgery he had already performed on himself.
I share that story because it helps us understand the price Jesus paid out of his love for us. When God stepped out of heaven and into Mary’s womb, God became both patient and surgeon. He performed a type of surgery on himself for almost 40 years to change his own human nature. His surgical cuts in himself rooted out the human selfishness, our resistance to the Father, and every desire that was never meant to be in the human heart. But he had to go beyond removing one organ because his whole humanity was infected. He took on this disease that he struggled against his whole life (Hebrews 4:15; 5:7 – 10). And he was successful where everyone else failed. He never sinned. He never gave in.
So he bent his human nature back to love the Father, and perfected the antibodies in himself. When he gave himself back to us, our maker became our healer. Our creator became our savior. He did it first in the body of Jesus, and he does it now in our bodies by his Spirit.