Hello all! I am writing this in the midst of the coronavirus storm that is sweeping our world. I’m not sure how helpful it is to include any specifics in this introduction, because it seems like the situation changes and progresses with incredible speed.
What was true yesterday no longer applies to today and will be outdated by tomorrow.
Everyone is being affected by this virus in different ways.
I was supposed to start a new research nursing job, but I was informed that my position was terminated in light of the looming coronavirus threat.
My life is definitely swarming with uncertainty, but I also know that I’m not alone in experiencing dramatic life alterations.
One of my friends had to cancel her wedding celebration; my sister is not able to complete her senior semester of student teaching in college; my nursing friends are working their hardest in the hospitals and outpatient centers to deliver care to patients.
It’s a universal battle we are all dealing with in different ways.
Before the dramatic closures of public areas began, I was able to attend a conference in Denver held by the Denver Institute for Faith and Work. It’s an organization that brings together those who live and work in the Denver area.
Their mission is to “celebrate what is good, lament what is broken, and partner with businesses, churches, and organizations to seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which we’ve been called.”
While they do a great number of things within the city of Denver, they often hold events that focus on hot-topic issues that affect the local scene. I recognize that not every reader of this blog considers him/herself a Christian, but the mission of this organization is powerful regardless of religious affiliation.
The Denver Institute desires to inspire those in the workplace to be agents of change, to transform the mundane or twisted or broken into vibrant, flourishing places.
I went to an event called, “My Pain is Ever With Me: How Healthcare Providers Can Respond Faithfully to Patient’s Suffering.” The human experience of chronic pain and the difficulty of responding well as healthcare providers to such debilitating conditions is something that all doctors and nurses grapple with.
The presenters included Bob Cutillo, M.D. from Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Brett McCarty, Th.D. from Duke Divinity School, Abraham Nussbaum, M.D., M.T.S. from Denver Health, and Jeanne Oh Kim, M.D. from Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
Here were some of my take-away points from the evening:
1. We don’t have to cure chronic pain, but we do have to try to care for the pain.
2. Tend to the mental components of suffering just as much as the physical components.
3. The worst kind of suffering is suffering that takes place alone.
The last point hit me quite hard as I sat and listened to the talk of Abraham Nussbaum, a Behavioral Health Specialist in Denver who tends to the more psychological dimensions of chronic pain.
He shared statistics about how Colorado typically ranks in the top 10 states for suicide on a yearly basis, and how the dimensions of despair often play a huge role in whether or not someone experiences chronic pain. I enjoyed his teaching style so much that I decided to listen to another one of his talks about renewing healthcare that was posted on the Denver Institute for Faith and Work website.
His goal in this talk was to challenge healthcare workers to imagine what medicine should be.
Dr. Nussbaum talked about how he quickly learned how to relate patient conditions to billing codes, reducing patients to codes that correlated with monetary prices. No wonder it is hard for doctors and other healthcare workers to see patients as people! Dr. Nussbaum shares personal stories that outline how easily he forgot how to see his patients as people and care for their whole selves without reducing them down to a body part or billing code.
He argues that the medical training structure itself teaches doctors to think certain ways that are detrimental to patient care:
1) doctors are told to see patients as subjects to be controlled and manipulated,
2) doctors are told they are the author of the body, and
3) doctors are told to follow evidence-based practice to deliver identical treatment/care to every patient.
Dr. Nussbaum says that clinics and hospitals become factories instead of places for personal treatment for souls who are suffering.
Instead of seeing patients in such reductionistic terms, Dr. Nussbaum believes that healthcare works could transform the system by understanding the job of healing as a calling and a joy to help another human being. What if we saw patients as members of our own community, in need of services that healthcare workers specifically can deliver?
Dr. Nussbaum shared a quote from Basil of Caesarea, spoken by Basil to his neighbors in the fourth century:
“A command is clear, the hungry person is dying now. The naked person is freezing now. The person in debt is beaten now. And you want to wait until tomorrow. The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person. The coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it. The shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes. The money that you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.”
It is an incredible call to serve those who are suffering NOW, and it is a reminder to us who have the means to address the sufferer’s needs to step up and deliver actionable help.
Dr. Nussbaum argues that if medical workers see themselves as servants to the persons who are ill, we can drastically alter our medical communities for the better.