I thought the following was a good example of the anecdotal value of spiritual care in health care.
Spiritual Support At The Hospital Is The Soul Of The Healthcare System
Associate Community Editor
I didn’t realize how important spirituality in the world of modern medicine is to me until someone asked if I wanted spiritual support during my hospital stay for an upcoming knee surgery. As the community editor of HuffPost Religion, I wondered how our commenters felt about spiritual support so I asked them asked them via Facebook. Many of our readers have had remarkable experiences with pastoral staffs of various religious traditions in medical settings across the world. You can read those experiences at the close of this blog.
My story with real life spiritual support at the hospital has yet to happen. However, I have accepted a visit from a pastor in advance. To backtrack, I was on a year and a half journey of figuring out the cause of my knee pain. There were months of physical therapy, multiple tests and a series of second opinions with orthopedic surgeons. The pain and instability in my knee is complex. There’s a long history there and I was hoping for a doctor to truly listen.
While I understand and deeply appreciate my access to medical care and freedom to choose a doctor, finding one I trusted was a process that didn’t end like I expected it too. I was waiting for that feeling of inner peace to come. When it didn’t, I swallowed my doubt and eventually settled on the doctor who did the most thorough examination. He has stellar credentials and has done very impressive research on injuries related to mine. All good yet I desired a little soul in my medical staff.
In my search for the right physician, I couldn’t help but compare a hasty diagnosis to fast cash from an ATM. Being told a solution before fully understanding the problem did to my spirit what an impulse withdraw does to an account balance. It drained it. What I hoped for was not an ATM transaction but a visit back in time to slow and careful financial institution. When I was a kid and my mom went through the drive through at the bank I grew up in, the teller would put a lollipop in the air chute for me. I didn’t know it until later on but small gestures of personal consideration is everything when it comes to humanizing the automatic world of modern day medical care.
My last appointment before surgery went like this. The proxy. The policy number. Age. Year of my last surgery. Employer’s address. I answered lots of questions and I had lots of questions of my own, the major one being – “Am I going to be taken care of?”
I imagine this underlying concern to be buried in many patients. I know my pre-surgical anxiety was very present. It was something I thought I’d manage in private. However, when the receptionist asked for my work number, I gave her a testy response, letting some of that pent up frustration out in the wrong way. “My work number!?” I repeated her question with (misplaced) irritation. I’m not going to be at my desk when I’m under anesthesia. Plus, I’ve already written it down on like 50 forms. I apologized to the receptionist for being rude, remembering her question was normal procedure. What I didn’t know was also normal procedure was her next set of questions. What was my religion? Do I want spiritual support in the hospital?
When the receptionist asked me if I wanted a visit from their pastoral staff at my hospital stay, I felt taken care of for one of the first times on my long journey of getting to the bottom of my knee pain and deciding on operation. There are many ways for my knee to heal. My faith is a huge part of that healing and I’m glad the hospital gets that. Suddenly, I had real trust in the process, the kind of trust that comes from above.
I appreciate my technical doctor more than ever before. He’s awesome. I expect the spiritual support staff to be too. It’s not so much about a member of the clergy visiting me. It’s that just another hospital transaction included the assurance of care for my spirit. I got my answer to “Will everything be okay?” by being asked “Do you want spiritual support?”. I exhaled deep and gave the receptionist my answer. A slightly teary “yes”.
Pam Garrud said:
I’m a hospital chaplain and I really appreciate this article and I think it’s awesome.
However, as a patient, I also question whether spiritual care is a bolt-on extra to a physician who really listens to one’s problems? I remember finally having a very irritating and soul-draining malady (it went on for 18 months) solved by a doctor who actually took the time to listen to me. It wasn’t his concern that made the difference, but the fact that he took the time to understand that since the usual solutions to X weren’t working, maybe I didn’t actually have X and might have had Y instead.
To use the author’s bank analogy, wouldn’t it be better to have a bank that took the time to know its customers so that it didn’t give mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them?
I truly believe that the chaplain’s spiritual support is important to people. I’ve had any number of patients tell me so. I can also do great “service recovery.” But I also think that medical staff have to be more patient (hah! pun not originally intended) and have to learn to listen more carefully.