By Michael Warren
My father was a wise man who used to say, “Never discuss religion or politics.” Well, let’s leave politics out of this, but, as religion and medicine tend to coexist in a hospital setting and often complement each other, a few observations seem to be in order.
When you check into a hospital, its admission form usually asks you to identify your religious affiliation. The hospital is not being nosy, and you don’t even have to answer the question. However, if you think you might want to talk to a minister (or if you want to make it clear that you don’t want a visit from a clergy member), this is the time to make your feelings known.
Most hospitals have a chaplaincy program. Usually, it is composed of a few dedicated individuals who are available to fill patients’ spiritual needs or just to talk and provide company.
If you’re lucky, the chaplain might be your own minister, since volunteers from the local community staff most departments of ministry. Chaplains can bring serenity to a stressful experience, provide reassurance to worried families or perform certain religious rites or traditions, if required.
There is no doubt that faith and prayer can make positive contributions to a patient’s recovery. Most doctors have witnessed a minister’s influence that has resulted in a resurgence of hope and eventual recovery in patients who had virtually lost the will to live.
I have seen clergy involved in almost every aspect of patient care. They bring people to the hospital, take them home, or stay up all night holding a patient’s hand. I’ve even seen them spend their own money to supply patients with something they require. Most doctors will be eternally grateful to the clergy for their dedication and the accompanying extraordinary results.
Many hospitals provide chapels where patients and families can seek solitude for meditation and prayer. It can be a quiet refuge from the clatter of the sterile hospital hallways, the buzzing of the intensive-care unit.
Regardless of your ailment or anticipated length of stay, a visit from a member of the clergy is available for all patients. You can request a minister who represents your personal religious affiliation. If you indicate a desire for a visit from a clergyman or clergywoman and it does not materialize, don’t hesitate to bring this to someone’s attention. Tell your doctor or nurse; contact a patient relations representative.
The clergy is there to comfort and the doctors are there to heal. Together, we can provide the physical, mental and emotional support that can help to speed your recovery. What a partnership!
Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.