Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Medicine, Skilled Hands, Compassion and God

In my short term as a hospital employee, I learned through a crash course how medicine really works. If you think the magic lies in that IV pump, or the OR, or even the skilled hands of a physician, think again. Not that these things don't help-they do. But they aren't the end all to every physical problem. If that was a fact, patient satisfaction wouldn't be so important.

While some may argue that it is technology and medicine we should focas on, I argue it is a combination of medicine, skilled hands, and compassion while God does the real work. This sounds simple, but it took some real bumps in the road for me to come to terms with that. Below is an excerpt from a writing project related to the enlightenment process titled Healthcare That Heals-Reclaiming the Passion for Compassion.

What I needed more than anything was a support group for ducks. Yes, ducks. As graceful as they glide across the lake water who would ever know their little legs are paddling like mad underneath the surface of the water? That was me. By all appearances, I gracefully handled any situation-even death in an elevator- but the truth was that I was struggling. More than just a little, too. It would have been so liberating to have been able to go into a room full of people like me, stand up, and blurt out “I may look like I’m doing ok but I’m not. When you ask if I am alright, especially after I lose a patient to death, and I say I am, how can you believe me? No. I’m not ok. I am struggling. Can’t you see my legs paddling like mad?”

Once you become a duck, you notice other ducks. You walk into a patient’s room that is undergoing chemo and ask how they are doing. “I’m fine. And you?” Sure they’re fine. How could they be when they are engaged in a battle for their life right now? Duck.

You’re standing in line in the cafeteria and over hear two other employees talking. One mentions her husband just lost his job and she is concerned about the stability of her own work. You are elbow to elbow with her at the salad bar a few minutes later and initiate small talk. “So how’s it going, Alice?” She smiles. “Not bad.You? Boy this lettuce looks wilted today.” Duck.

Your pond, the world around you, has more ducks in it than you think. But true to duck behavior, it’s hard to see what others are going through because you are so consumed with keeping your feet moving to keep your own head above water.

My medical career so far had been a baptism by fire. I had the head knowledge of how hospital life and schedules ran, but learning humanity in the midst of crisis was a new lesson altogether. The training of physicians, medical technology and technological advances weren’t powerful enough to have the last word. God was still in charge of life and death and flexed his authoritative muscle often. I was caught between fearing God and not trusting him, while trying to figure out my role in the whole scheme of things if my prayers for patients didn’t get answered. Why was I here? Why did I have a distinct and overpowering desire to work in the hospital if there was no purpose? I believe everything happens for a reason and there is a purpose for each desire of the heart. What was the purpose in my driving desire? Have I mentioned how simple the answer was? That God wanted me to be there to care for patients in distress, not necessarily author the outcome? That idea went over my head for the time being, and so I continued on a self destructive course, perfecting the whole duck act.