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Living the Way as a Healthcare Provider

The Covenant of LOVE Listening, Observing, Valuing and Empathy Still a Model for Today

In the discussions found in articles or books on the spirituality of health care workers usually I have found several which use a listing of the characteristics or the virtues needed for the provider.

Where I believe is the central foundation core of all the articles that have come across my desk can be found is in the very heart of our personal vision of our faith as an understanding of who we are to God and who is the patient to us.

Who we are to God is simple – we are His people, as children of our Creator. Who is the patient to us? A gift from God to us entrusted in our care for Him.

To describe the person, who we serve as ‘the patient’ at more times then not, is to create ‘otherness.’ Somehow using the term ‘the patient’ though needed creates a division between us the servant and our fellow children of God. Because of this clinical and socially appropriate term, at times a patient can become less then a part of ‘us’, which could allow one to slip into becoming above or distant from their suffering. That will remove us from the empathy needed.

Are we protecting ourselves from the joining of ourselves in a bond of mutual tenderness and respect, guised under the patient-professional relationship that needs distance to pursue without hindrance a more accurate clinical diagnosis?

“ Who we are to God?” is the question that can also be answered in understanding the ‘we’ as other than just a plural term to define a group pronoun. The ‘we’ is each one of us together, on this journey, as all created uniquely and equally as a child of God, as part of the body of Christ, sharing in the burdens of life by holding each other up through the struggles.

The physician – using the term ‘one who heals’ and not just the recent 19th and 20th century legal terms , has always been held in the history of civilizations, a place of honor. Rightly so for the most part. Yet too many times, and probably not just in our times, a false sense of pride is evident. This distorted type of pride has created a distance between us- the ‘other’ as ‘the patient’ and the ‘self’ as ‘the doctor.’

The two most common complaints I have heard over my years of practice is “my doctor does not listen” and “ my doctor thinks he/she knows it all.” I believe the reason is that it is easier to diagnose something ‘distant’ than it is to listen, to care, and to share.

It is quite easier to hide behind our technological model of patient care and forget the covenantal model God has given us to cherish to all a holistic healing – the true cure.

We rush here and there, from forms to files and back again, room to room and back again. We hand over the caring to a support staff while we falsely proclaim ownership of the curative roles. Personally, I never heard of, or experience, a cure by a technical application of a treatment. A cure has something more than a simple application. What a cure has is the gentleness and understanding of the suffering because of the illness and pain, by the technician/physician, and not the technical act.

The term physician belongs to those who heal. Only true healing can take place in the heart, from the heart to a heart. Heart of Christ, to our heart to the 'heart' of one who is now a patient.

Are we so distant from ‘the patient’ that we fail to see the person before us? Being a patient of recent years and caretaker of a patient more than a clinician these days, I find myself at the other end. Yes, the other end. The other end is a place we can put ‘the patient’ when we are rushed into that separate and distant cold place between 10:05 am and 10:15am called an appointment.

Listening, observing, valuing and empathy is the common ethics, which are needed for clear and accurate communications. Yet, beyond using these as guideposts for teaching communication skills in the clinical setting, we need to live out the listening, observing valuing, and empathy – Love. Living love, love not as a commandant observing it out of obedience because we ought [philosophically], but because we live it as the way of the life of our hearts, filled by the deep-rooted uncompromising understanding of the suffering of Christ’s as a gift for us from his life and death on the cross.

His suffering through the death was fully human. In this burden of seeming unending pain, of which we will all come to know so well in our old age, we will find the core of our spirituality. God fully shared in our physical pain, in what he felt, he bled, and he died. He fully shares in our suffering now.

Though we can only come to know only a portion of His sufferings, He truly understands and walks with ours. How we come to know his suffering as a provider is by recognizing and walking in our own, and with and in another’s suffering as a servant of the sick.

Truly, who is before us in ‘the patient’s ’illness? It is the Christ, there suffering. It is not in analyzing the different contemporary models of physician -patient relationship, such as the friendship or contract models that we find. It is not just the ‘what’ of the relationship, but the 'who' of the relationship. Who is standing there between the physician and ‘the patient’? It is Christ waiting for his love to manifest, calling us.

How can we live in and offer Christ’s love in the moments of the clinical encounter? It is by knowing who we are within our own flesh, our embodiment. It is in our sickness we come to know, to see and to touch, not a symbol but a reality of the suffering of the Incarnation.

Understanding we are children of God, both in body and spirit, humbles us. As we stand before ‘the patient’ we are standing in the presence of Christ. Knowing that our gift of education and technical skills is truly that, a gift meant to be shared with the understanding that we are equals before God.

We can not love what we do not value. As we rush from place to place our lives need to be so penetrated with the tenderness of the Holy Spirit that at the very moment of the clinical encounter we come with and stand in Christ’s presence naturally and without effort.

Within the terms used the physician, doctor, provider, primary health care professional, or whatever term we used to describe a professional in the health curative and caring professions we must include in the listing of spiritual virtues is living out the way of the heart.

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