November 19, 2012

Tired. Sleepy. Overwhelmed. Burned-out. These are adjectives that often describe my existence just a few weeks into another semester. The work and studying seems never ending at times. The idea of preparing to take Step 1 rides my back like a monkey I just can’t shake. My day is so consumed with achieving superb productivity in my studies that only people and activities important to me are able to squeeze into my busy life. This is my reality.

To make matters worse, school has shown very little mercy in slowing down the massive distribution of information I must thoroughly know and understand. This is all done under what seems to be a time pressure-cooker. And so, with this in mind, I couldn’t help but think, “Why do they make us go to religion class twice a week?” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be a Christian and long to be a Christian physician. Nonetheless, in the face of Pharmacology and Pathophysiology, The Art of Integrative Care religion class seems a lot less significant. On the first day, the professor announced that we have an assignment where we needed to go into the hospital, find a patient, and ask them a long list of questions concerning their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I shrugged inside, knowing this assignment would only eat into study time.

Well, I grabbed a partner and we made our way to the hospital: Floor 5800 – Pediatric Cardiac Transplantation. We asked the charge nurse if there were any mothers willing to talk to us in order to complete our assignment. She sort of
scramble around for a few seconds checking the rooms for parents. There turned out to be only one parent on the floor. She escorts us to the room, pauses, and says, “Do you need to ask her any spiritual questions?” “Of course,” I thought, seeing as this is Loma Linda, the only Adventist medical school in the country. But we both said with a smile, “Oh no, not necessarily.” We finally enter the room. The worry masked by self-taught toughness was evident on this mother’s face. We caught her in the middle of gazing at her beautiful baby girl sleeping semi-peacefully in the hospital crib. We introduce ourselves and begin asking her the questions we needed answered for our assignment. She explains her daughter has dextrocardia in which her heart has flipped over and was situated on the right side. She had two surgeries done already all before the age of two. This time she came to the hospital for the third surgery, but do to unforeseeable complications, the surgery had to be reversed.

My heart broke for her family’s situation. How difficult it must be to watch helplessly as her little one struggled. We asked her about her support systems including family and a church organization. She mentioned her major support was her sister and, occasionally, she would attend her sister’s church. We finally wrapped up the interview, thanked her for her time, and wished her and her daughter well. I could sense the closing remarks seemed inadequate and incomplete.

Before making our way to the door, I asked her, “Would you mind if we pray for you and your daughter?” After recalling what the nurse had insinuated about this woman’s spirituality, I expected to hear a simple “No thank you.” To my surprise, she gladly welcomed it. We prayed for God to give her strength, to restore her  daughter’s health, and for her family to continue being the support she needs. Lastly, we prayed that God’s will would be done in her the situation. She thanked us for the prayer and we exited the room.

While reflecting on the experience, I didn’t think it was a waste of my time anymore. I had no thoughts of changing classes or complaining to my friends about how unenjoyable the assignment was. Instead, I thought this is why I want to be a doctor.  I thought this is what I came to medical school to do – to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of a patient and their family. I wish I could have spoken as her surgeon and scheduled her daughter for another life-saving procedure. Or, I wish I could have spoken as her pediatrician and assure her that the child’s vital sign were within normal range and that her condition seemed to be improving. Instead, all I could say was, “Would you mind if I prayed for you?” And that was enough.