Monday, October 8, 2012

God, medicine, and spirit

My mom has a knack for sending awesome articles my way.  The most recent:

A Doctor's Ministry, Bridging Science and Spirit from the NY Times.

First, this man, Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, has a gift with words.  Two of my favorite quotes from this article:

"The people I care for are imperfect.  And I can't make them perfect."

I think people inclined towards medicine are also generally inclined towards fixing things.  I know I am.  As such, one of the hardest facts to face in medicine is that we cannot simply fix our patients.  They come to us broken in so many ways and will leave broken.  We aren't god.  In fact we are as broken as our patients.  What we can do though is care for our patients -- both body and spirit.

It's important to recognize the body and spirit are tightly intertwined.  Medical education generally tries to isolate the body and focus on physical healing alone -- and that makes a lot of sense, as very few of us are experts in spiritual matters.  But it is hard to ignore the toll physical pain takes on the spirit.  Even if you 'fix' the body, there are still scars on the spirit.  That's something we cannot fix.

Speaking of... my other favorite quote.

"I see children with some amazing deformities.  But God doesn't make mistakes."

While I was rotating through pediatric surgery, my team was consulted on a baby in the NICU with multiple deformities, inside and out.  His heart didn't pump right.  He couldn't eat because his esophagus was connected to his wind pipe.  His arms were contorted.  His fingers were fused.  And his parents had a tough call to make.  Its hard to sit down with a patient, or parents, deliver bad news and still believe that God doesn't make mistakes.  Its hard to know that care is being withdrawn from a one week old and still believe that God doesn't make mistakes.  But for my patients and their loved ones I need to.  For myself I need to.  Those four words are like a life raft in the storm -- they are hope that some true healing will come from brokenness and sorrow.

Those four words are what make our patients perfect.

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