Joseph Pearce: Healing through a Fairy-tale

Those who work in healthcare are no strangers to the struggles their patients face in the areas of suffering and addiction. As ones whose work is to heal, we are brushing against the hurt underlying the physical symptoms we diagnose, but how do we navigate the messy waters of another person’s suffering and their methods of coping?

It was G.K. Chesterton who once wrote, “The more truly we can see life as a fairy-tale, the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the dragon who is wasting fairyland.” Through the lens of a story, we are often provided an understanding to our own human psychology that provides unprecedented value to our approach to healing.

Joseph-Pearce-@-podium

Joseph Pearce, writer of the recent book, “Bilbo’s Pilgrimage” and Director of the Aquinas Center for Faith and Culture, will be speaking on the connection between Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series and its way of imaginatively reflecting on reality in a lecture titled, “Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings.” This lecture, presented by St. Thomas Health, will be held on October 21st at Saint Cecilia Academy on the Dominican Campus.

If you live in the Nashville area, we encourage you to consider attending Joseph Pearce’s lecture and to be inspired to see the struggles & addictions that you and your patients face in a whole new light.

Please view this flyer for more information about the event and the availability of CME.

Contact mdreger@sth.org for more information and to RSVP.

An Invitation

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a pool party.

It may seem unremarkable; Nashville summer is eat-your-ice-cream-quick hot and this is the weekend of fireworks and barbeques, too-pink skin and Chaco tan lines. Yes, this party may have fit the American mold in that there was food, laughter, and the sun shone bright, but that is where the similarities end. This was the first pool party I had ever attended in which I did not speak the primary language, or know what most of the food I was consuming was called.

This was the first pool party I’d ever been to that was thrown especially for me.Jesus welcoming us

Let me just say this: the people of El Shaddai know how to throw a surprise party. Although Caleb, James and I were shocked to discover that the small gathering we’d been expecting from a casual invitation the week prior was in reality a full-blown party, we felt comfortable. In the midst of the jokes and homemade coconut ice cream of this Spanish-speaking congregation I found myself at home, a welcome addition to this beautiful community, simply because through love I was invited to be.

As I peruse the Holy Word I’m struck by the fact that God has forever known the importance of an invitation. I’ve often puzzled over the seemingly simple queries of the Lord, from the “Where are you?” of Garden of Eden fame (Genesis 3:9) to the seemingly flippant “Would you like to get well?” to the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. (John 5:6). Doesn’t God already know the answers? This week I realized that God uses questions as an invitation towards engagement with Him. Through questions God invites me to be found and be healed, to grasp tightly to His bloodied hand. Through Jesus, God reaches out an invitation to engage with me.

This week I met “Biruh”, a beautiful young refugee woman. Biruh is three months young to America, the beloved younger sister of her older brother “Myo”, a new employee of Tyson® working 60 hours a week. Biruh is severely anemic and very weak. Biruh is also deaf and mute. Along with James Dolezal, I accompanied Michael Daniel, Siloam’s Physician’s Assistant, to visit Biruh at home. When we arrived, we were shocked at what we found—Biruh, sitting despondent in a corner of the small living room, head hanging low. She was in the company of a neighbor, a man who (when prompted) attempted to communicate with her by speaking loudly. “That means she has to use the bathroom,” he said confidently as Biruh almost imperceptibly moved her left hand. When asked about her family (Biruh was unresponsive) the neighbor promptly disappeared to locate them, leaving us alone with Biruh for almost ten minutes.

She didn’t lift her head the entire time.

Eventually her family returned and confirmed what I feared: Biruh spent the majority of each day in the tiny apartment, alone. Her mother commented that, although she asks Biruh to clean for her, she is “lazy and slow”.

As I looked at Biruh I felt that I had never seen a more vulnerable person. Here was a person begging with her whole being to be invited to engage; and as we prayed for her before departing I hoped she realized that Jesus was extending that bloodied palm towards her. As we prayed for healing for Biruh, body and mind, I prayed the truth of Scripture, “My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…He who did not spare even His own Son, how will He not also freely and graciously give all things?” (Isaiah 55:8, Romans 8:32).

I cannot understand Biruh’s pain, her loneliness, or God’s purpose in her debilitating disability. But I remain confident that God invites her to be His, to rest and be healed, and so I hope. I hope in the invitation that will allow her to feel at home with a family of strangers. I hope in the promise of “how will He not also…?”. I place my hope in that bloody cross, and I pray for Biruh, because through His love I am invited to do so.

Claire Johnson - CHI 2013 participant Claire is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Compassion is a Universal Language

Entering the room I expected to see “Mrs. Garcia” sitting awkwardly due to some pain in her right leg. compassionate-touch - courtesy of boldgain blogHowever, she had also listed “depression” among her complaints,  I did not know what to expect. I did notice the vacant expression on her face and assumed that the leg pain was not the only thing on her mind.

While Dr.Wills conducted the physical examination I wasn’t interested in the content of the questions he was asking but rather the manner in which he asked them. Contending with the language barrier and aided by the use of a phone interpreter we learned that her pain renders her almost useless at home and doesn’t allow her to get more than four hours of sleep a night. Obviously, these are factors which contributed to her feelings of depression. Right here the questioning could have ended, pain medication, anti-depressants, and sleep medication could have been prescribed, as well as a referral to see a physical therapist and she could have been on her way. However, Dr. Wills chose to delve deeper and involve the other resources available at Siloam.

I accompanied Mrs. Garcia to Rebecca Swift’s office (she is the staff behavioral health consultant) where we learned that when Mrs. Garcia had left Cuba, both of her sons and their family’s application to relocate with her had been denied by the Cuban government. Just listening to her talk about both of her sons and grandchildren – I could see that she was missing a huge part of her life and her heart. While explaining this, she began to cry and I found myself reaching out to pat her back as an assertion of what Rebecca was saying – that she was a good mother and she raised fine young men. When Rebecca had finished, Mrs. Garcia was offered and agreed to prayer from the Siloam Pastor, Doug Mann.

I have had the pleasure of speaking with Doug on occasion and his sense of humor is unmatched, but to see him in this context: praying with a woman who felt alone and worthless, was a true blessing. Through his beautiful words, Doug was able to illustrate to Mrs. Garcia the love that God has for her and the great lengths that He is willing to go to in order to pursue her. As tears continued to stream down her face all she could say was, “gracias,” over and over again. When she was on her way to leave she turned to me, hugged me, and kissed me on the cheek. It was right then I realized that I had witnessed something special in this woman’s life.

I have always understood the term “whole-person care” as not only seeking the physical well-being of a patient but also ministering to their mental, emotional, and spiritual health. In theory this sounds like an excellent way to go – especially when considering that all aspects of health have an impact on one another. However, actually caring for the “whole person” can be a very daunting task for any individual. While I do believe that it can be done, there is definitely a better outcome if a team approach is taken. Siloam has mastered this;  not because they try to “fix the problem” but because they truly care and love the people they serve. While there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from a clinical perspective at Siloam, what I am finding most beneficial from my time here is the way they show love and bring hope to their patients.

Manzella, Elias - 2013Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

The Doctor is In…house calls on the CHI

Finally, after tromping around the largely-refugee complex in sweltering summer heat, we had found it: the residence of Siloam patient “Subba,” our first home-visit of the day.

Doctor Bag

Dr. Kristin Martel had briefed Caleb and me with some basic information about the patient, a 40 year-old Nepalese female with serious, debilitating depression that was beginning to manifest in bodily (specifically joint) pain. As we approached that unremarkable apartment building, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was woefully unprepared for this – my first home-visit. I was excited to observe an aspect of medicine largely lost to the American healthcare system, but what would it be like, I wondered, to enter the home of someone suffering from severe depression? How could I hope to do or say anything even remotely helpful?

When Subba didn’t answer Kristin’s persistent knocking, I began silently hoping that she wasn’t home so we could skip this whole affair. We waited for a few minutes, and eventually, a Nepalese man named “Poorba” came down the outdoor stairway. Kristin asked Poorba if he knew Subba, and he quickly went back upstairs and returned with Subba’s mother-in-law. She opened the apartment door for us, retrieved Subba from a back room, and invited us to sit with them indoors. Poorba accompanied us as an interpreter.

At first, our interactions with Subba didn’t seem to suggest that anything too out-of-the-ordinary was happening in her life. She didn’t smile and didn’t make eye contact with us, but then again, we had just barged into her house.

After a few minutes, Kristin asked about the medications she was taking. Subba continued staring at the floor, softly rubbing her elbows and knees. She told us that they hadn’t done anything for her pain, which was getting to be so severe that she couldn’t even leave the house anymore. We tried a few other avenues of conversation and eventually came to the topic of her husband.

“How is your husband doing?” Kristin had asked. “Does he work a lot?” My heart fell as I saw tears begin streaming down her face. Kristin moved next to her, put a hand on her back, and gently prompted further. Subba told us that he – her only source of income and support – was in the hospital, undergoing some sort of heart surgery. She felt alone, isolated and unsupported, in her pain.

The sorrowed stillness stretched for what seemed to be an eternity. The silence was broken by Caleb, who lightly inquired about a doll he saw propped up on a nearby table. Her face lifted slightly as she answered, “It’s mine.” She took us back to her bedroom and showed us a few other dolls and stuffed animals, of which she seemed proud. Any happiness they might have elicited sadly fled, though, when we asked about the great view her window afforded her of a children’s playground. The view only deepened her pain, for it reminded her of her longing to be outside.

It seemed that our time at her home would soon be wrapping up, so we prepared to finish with a brief prayer. Before we circled up for the final prayer, though, Kristin inquired about a piece of paper taped to the wall next to Subba’s bed. One of the pictures on the sheet of paper triggered memories of an Eastern Religions class I had taken in college, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the mother-in-law tell us that it was a Hindu prayer. And in that moment, God made His presence known by sealing me with a question I knew I had to ask: “Do those gods answer your prayers?” She said no, they don’t; she prays, but she still feels alone. And there it was, as simple as that – a door to hope. God’s Spirit moved, and we told her why we hope and pray in the name of Jesus.

Afterward, we asked if we could pray for her in Jesus’ name, and she invited us to do so. God demonstrated His wisdom and faithfulness when Poorba – this random guy we bumped into while waiting at Subba’s door – told us that he was actually a pastor and would be happy to translate our prayer. We prayed over her, for the alleviation of her pain, for the health of her husband, and against the spiritual darkness that might seek dominion over her house. Her mother-in-law led us into a second room, and we prayed again for the household.

Leaving her apartment was one of the most saddening yet hopeful experiences I’ve ever had. My heart went out to this poor woman who longed for love, support, and alleviation from her emotional and physical pain. Yet as we left, I knew that God was present and that He would finish the work we had seen Him begin. I may never know the end of her story – whether or not she experiences physical healing and spiritual liberation – but of this I am certain: He heard our prayers that day, and He will continue to relentlessly pursue the heart of His beloved child.

Doezal, James- CHI 2013James is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.