In a room full of young, enthusiastic, Christian physicians who come from all over the US (and the world!) to study here, a question is asked by the one gray aged seasoned doctor in the room: Have you ever known a patient who was healed but still sick, still dying?
Everyone shifts uncomfortably. We have had 8-12 years of brainwashing that tells us rationally healing is brought about by time, careful calculated interventions and sleep deprivation on our part. Plus faith healing makes us uncomfortable. Not only does it seem to contradict our brainwashing…if we as Christian physicians start advocating for faith healing we will be seen as crazy, fundamentalist, religious freaks by our professional peers. We can’t explain it, we can’t know it and therefore it makes us feel uncomfortable.
I find myself smiling knowingly. It’s not faith healing that our leader is preaching, its wholeness. Its realization that what we see as doctors, as humans is only a small part of what makes a person. The illnesses we seem so keen on fighting are a part of a larger whole. He is talking about how people are never bad outcomes. But as I look at my peers’ expression I shift uncomfortably. I realize that I am once again in the minority. I get this because this is fundametal to who I am, to how I see the world as a wounded healer. To my young, healthy, ambitious peers this is a very hard concept.
He goes further and begins to tip another sacred cow of medicine… He says a word that we say all the time in church but really has lost the luster it had centuries ago: L E P E R. He tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi walking down the road and hearing the clanging of a cow bell. He tried to get out of the way but found himself transfixed to the spot in the middle of the road as a leper with a warning bell around his neck approaches. He talks to the LEPER who is shocked that he is spoken to. As he turns to go, the LEPER turns into Jesus for a split second. St. Francis is brought to his knees.
I have never met a patient with leprosy. But I know about LEPERS.
I was rolling down the dirt path in the Green Machine, making small talk with my dear Belorussian friend when all of the sudden…Its raining money. A beautiful gypsy women is dropping money in my lap. I sit their startled. This woman is a beggar and she is giving me the money she has managed to get because I as a disabled person am worse than the beggars.
I am riding on the Romanian subway with Emily. One of our friends who is covered in scabies from the streets comes on the train at one of the stops. He stops by and talks to us. Every eye on the train is either horrified or shocked by this turn of the events. The boy says goodbye and begins his dramatic speech begging for money. But the stares continued…who are these strange American girls who are friends with beggar children?
I am sitting on a bed holding a sobbing teenager, 15 yo, not married whose new born baby just died from a Fatal birth defect. Earlier someone had made a comment that she got what was coming to her for the choices she made.
He comes to the ED every other weekend, high, drunk or when they run out of beds at the homeless shelter with one complaint or another. He is a frequent flyer and we draw straws over who has to go examine him because he smells.
He is 5 yo, he has TB, AIDS and a pneumonia. His Mom is HIV positive but refused to test her son till now because of the shame it would bring upon her and her family in her village.
He is 22 and he comes in once a month just to make sure that he is remembering to take his medicines. He is healthy but has required anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicines since his parents kicked him out when he came out as gay.
She is 12 days old and she is going through withdrawal. Her Mom’s BAC and ethanol level were through the roof 12 days ago. Mom is on methadone and sometimes other pain meds. Baby can’t eat, sometimes she doesn’t even wake up when you mess with her.
What if we turned the story of St. Francis story around and each of these people turned for a moment into Christ? Would it change way we view them? Would we treat them differently as doctors? As human beings?
These are all real stories of real people who I have met who all needed physical healing of some sort but what they really needed was understanding and compassion. Some of them had done things to themselves but most were a vicitim of how they were born, somone’s else choices or worst of all society’s warped conception of their lives.
I took a chance and tell perhaps the least offensive story for my audience (the one about the street child on the subway). At the end I briefly mention some of the other new forms of lepsory that exisit in our medical and wider culture.
It makes us all cringe a bit.
But I think that is the bibical meaning of the word Leper….it was not meant to be PC or assuage our sensitivites it was to call us to radical wholeness, compassion and sharing of brokeness with our fellow man.