Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pilgrimage and Healing

 1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] [b] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”  
John 5: 1-6

There is great confusion between the concepts of healing and cure. Cure is analogous to the extraction of the trapped Chilean miners. We like cures, but what we know is that the Chilean miners continue to suffer even though they are alive. How will the trauma they have sustained be redeemed? Will it come from more attention? Will it come from a pilgrimage?

The turmoil in the Middle East is overshadowing the story of the Chilean miners, “Pilgrimage of Thanks”. Here are the reports in the media:

What have we learned? We love cures but healing is a larger idea. Pilgrimage is a good description of the journey that at its core is a metaphor for healing. Healing takes time and we are impatient and look to a quick technical response.

But is pilgrimage more than a metaphor? Maybe artifacts of the historic faith that was a gift to the miners will give them new strength. Maybe a Jewish prayer shawl will bring healing. Maybe it will happen quietly in the broken spirits of these men. What we should pray for is that the faith that we saw in the lives of the miners will continue to be a witness of their continued pilgrimage of healing to a world in chaos.

p.s. See the prior post “An International Healing Parable” – October 31, 2I010

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Watson" vs. Dr. House

It started out as a typical encounter...reporting the results of the ultrasound to the patient and her husband. On finishing, the patient’s husband states, “You should have been on House!” Before I could respond, the patient said, “Ya, but he is nicer”. I was uncertain how to respond to what might have been a criticism or a complement.

That evening the CBS news reported on the utility of “Watson”, the intelligent computer that successfully defeated prior champions on the game show “Jeopardy”. As a part of that report we heard about the success of “Watson” as a diagnostician in clinical trials. We were reassured not to worry that physicians would not be replaced by intelligent computers.

The obvious conclusion is that we should expect a “House MD” show that will play out the defeat of “House” by “Watson”, the technology he loves. This looks like Greek mythology with larger than life characters and principles in a cosmic struggle. I must admit that I hope we will see “Watson” soon on “House MD”! It would be an interesting story.

The reassurance by physicians on the CBS news seems less reliable to me since although technology has provided wonderful improvements in care, it has been at a high price! Complaints about the impersonal nature of healthcare seem to be played out in the character of Dr. House with little mention of the costs even though it is a primary concern of health care resource allocation. Maybe most importantly, it seems to me that healthcare technology is one of those counterfeit gods that seduce all of us into believing we can control our lives.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pupils/Patients – Teacher/Doctor

In 1995, I attended the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) meeting where George Will was asked to comment on the public’s understanding of medical education. His response was simply “They don’t have an understanding!” That could be changing given two recent events!

There are two healing conversations that have recently occupied my attention. The first is the movie “The King’s Speech” and the second the play “Let Me Down Easy” by Anna Deveare Smith. Both are opportunities to examine the character of healing. In the movie we see a history of a royal British healing and the other we see the complex current state of healthcare in the United States. Both stories have been acclaimed at a time when serious conversations about healing are not popular.

It is hard to understand the popularity without a sense that in both these stories there is a concern about the roles we play in the interactions of two people in a modern world of anonymity. We usually talk about the patient/doctor relationship and less about the pupil/teacher one. What I think is the reality is that the best aspects of healing are found when we see the educational dynamic as the basis of healing in the patient/physician interaction.

The play is an educational conversation that started at the Yale School of Medicine to provide a view of medicine that is opaque to many physicians. “The King’s Speech” provides a view of healing that has more to do with teacher/pupil relationships. We see the pain in both the teacher and pupil as they live out a relationship that “healed a nation”. Both stories have a basis within a Christian history of the impact of the church as both a stimulus for educational and healthcare institutions. We still see that dynamic at work in Christian missions of education and healthcare in the developing world.

My hope is that both stories generate more serious healing conversations by virtue of their availability and visibility.

“Let Me Down Easy”

“The King’s Speech”