Friday, September 12, 2008

a hand in healing...

I never believed I would be one of those physicians who had a “god-complex”—who thought that life & death was determined by their hands, and who played with the livelihood of their patients at will. And actually, I never believed that I’d be one of those physicians who was emotionless when delivering bad news, or who felt little-to-no empathy for patients scared, discomforted, or in pain.

But I am becoming one.

It’s not something I’m readily admitting on a daily basis. Not something I’ve even realized quite enough to surrender it to the Lord. But today I noticed that my emotional bank was drained just a little bit more than yesterday, which was a little more than the day before.

When I walked into the room of the forty-something year old man, I had no reaction. No empathy and less compassion than I would have expected even two weeks ago. He lay in bed, chest rising and falling much too fast for adequate oxygenation. His skin pale and clammy, we arrived to deliver the news of his transfer to a cardiothoracic surgeon in another city. He needed surgery…quickly. We’d found vegetations on his heart from years of IV drug abuse. And now, with his quickly-decompensating condition, his body could no longer withstand the stressors on his heart, lungs, and joints from his years of drugs, smoking, and hard labor. The only emotion I could muster was a small smile of pity because afterall, he was just another patient.

His voice, broken up by shallow breaths, was quiet. There was no dispute from him, no resistance to the serious news we’d just delivered. A dry mouth half opened between two sunken cheek bones, his only request was to see his nurse, who would enter the room shortly to change the urine pad that protected his bed.

Medicine & Christianity clash, no matter how you look at it. Many claim they clash educationally: that looking at the complexities of the human body somehow points away from a Great Creator and toward random design. Others claim they clash ethically: putting physicians’ beliefs above the patients’ own in order to gain wanted results. And still there are others, like me, who struggle with the clash emotionally.

The God who created the heavens and the Earth, who made man in his image—intricate in design & function; the Creator who gives life to all living things & moves mountains at will; that Being told me to LOVE, to have COMPASSION, and to look at each of His Creations as my brother or sister & treat them as such.

But I can’t.

I can’t wake up each morning and empty my heart (and my eyes) into each patients ailment. I can’t go to bed each night, struck with worry about the state of affairs of each body wearing a hospital gown. And I can’t go on with my days wondering about the eternal destination of every face I see. I would be emotionally drained, spiritually vacant, & physically exhausted.

The balance between Christian compassion & medical intervention is not so easy to find. The lines blur. There are too many gray areas to count. And many nights when I trudge back to my apartment, I’m left with conflicting thoughts about that fragile balance between compassion and distance, empathy and emotional-removal.

Truth be told, I don’t know if there is a balance. The scales sway in one direction and then the other, toward generous emotional sacrifice and then in the opposite direction nearing selfish emotional protection. Maybe it’s the method of finding equilibrium—not letting the scales tip too far or stay too long on one side or the other.

But then again, the compassion from God—the Ultimate Healer—is unending.

My grace is enough for you.
When you are weak,
my power is made perfect in you.
–2 Cor. 12:9

Grace, rain down on me today, tomorrow, and through the conflicts of my faith. Help my compassion to be never-ending, my love to be overflowing, and my healing be for Your glory.

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