Would it help if I …shared this with you? …left this on the table? …prayed with you?
Last Saturday afternoon was our first patient experience with the Whole Person Care Preceptorship here in Redlands. After listening to various speakers that morning and the night before discuss spiritual care and faith in medicine, at 1:00 PM we all loaded up to head to Loma Linda University Medical Center. These thirty-some-odd healthcare students were ready, albeit slightly uncertain in a few cases, to finally put what we had learned into practice. We all found our partners, mentors, and respective floors where we would be visiting patients and away we went.
Our first two patients that day were great. Both welcomed us into their lives and shared more than I know of a good deal of my friends back home. Our job this first day was just to practice taking a spiritual history, ensuring that the patients knew who we were, what we were doing, and that everything was completely up to them and would not affect their health care in the slightest. We had been given a guideline on how this can be done, but we were also told that no two people are the same; and while you might get through the full five or six questions with one person, with others, the answer to even the second question might steer the conversation a completely new way.
A few examples of these questions would be: “How long have you been here?”; “What has been your biggest concern through this, and where have you turned to for your source of strength during such a rough time?”; “How has this affected the way you view yourself?”; “How has it affected the way you view/think about God or other higher power?”
But again, these are just examples that are used to start a conversation – the overall goals are a dialogue between individuals who can learn from each other and for spiritual and emotional healing, in addition to the physical. For example, the first lady we saw had been there for a few weeks and just wanted to get out of the hospital. She shared with us that her family was a large support network but even more so her faith in God. It was so incredible to hear her open up and share with us her history – from childhood to marriage to the events leading to her hospitalization. When she said it would be helpful to walk through the Gospel, we were able to briefly share with her a little on how to know God more personally. The encouragement she received from just this little act was awesome and confirmed that spiritual care is indeed something that should be a key component of healthcare, no matter someone’s religious background. We asked her if it would be helpful if we prayed for her, and after hearing that she would indeed like that, we gathered around and one of us prayed for her before we left.
The following day we had the opportunity to go back and revisit her. This time we stayed longer, but from my point of view weren’t really getting anywhere. I had spoken to another patient the past day that I wanted to follow up with and was slightly frustrated at times at how much time was being “wasted”. There were long periods of silence and conversation that seemed to be going in circles. But as we got ready to leave, things changed. She thanked us for visiting her. Her husband and sister had visited a while back, but she hadn’t seen anyone in weeks other than hospital staff. Family would call, and she would try to get the conversation to last as long as she could just so she could keep hearing their voice and not feel alone. The fact that we cared about her as an individual and were willing to just be there with her meant a good deal. Sadly we did have to leave, but as we left, we again asked if it would be helpful if we prayed. Again she said that it would, but this time we all came around and prayed together, each in turn offering up thanks, requests, and burdens to God.
I left that day knowing that I had learned far more from her than she had from us. She taught me the importance of even small amounts of caring human conversation, regardless of topic. She taught me to look for the needs of the individual instead of what I think those needs should be. And she taught me that time spent with someone is never wasted if we are focused on who this person is and how we can best serve them in all areas of human life.
And that’s all folks! For right now, specific ways to pray for me would include:
- Wisdom in seeking and listening to God while I and the other students are talking with patients on wards.
- For the health and rest for the staff and students here. We have a couple of people that have been a little under the weather and some others of us are a little banged up after an incredibly fun evening at the beach yesterday (because we do indeed get to have a ton of fun – work hard, play hard!).
- For individual growth of all the students here as we are challenged to examine our own lives and work on areas of doubt, fear, and sin that we might not even fully realize are there.
Thanks! And yes, it would help if you prayed for me.