Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shifting Paradigms

It's my only memory of religious school.  I must have been about ten years old.  The poor teacher really had little chance.  The moment the conversation turned, I pounced.

What do you mean the chosen ones?

Such propaganda seemed anathema to a young upstart in the mid eighties in a town like Evanston, Illinois.  A town where people of different races and colors were bussed into my neighborhood to integrate the school system.  I remember using a child's words to described how divisive these beliefs could be.  My rant began to gain steam as my voice rose.  Eventually the flustered teacher lead me out of the classroom, and made me sit on a bench in the hallway for the rest of the period.

He must have felt bad about it.  Because the next weekend he suspended the morning lesson and took us all to McDonald's for breakfast.  It was my first and last tussle with religion.  Spiritual by nature, I rarely subscribed to any specific teaching or creed.  I believed our actions could be meaningful and holy without reciting incantations or bowing to an embellished deity.  I never really gave it much more thought.

That is, until recently.

As I voyage deeper into end of life care, I find myself more apt to openly discuss religion with my patients and their families.  When the cards are down and the answers are few, it helps the suffering to have a higher power to raise their hands and release their fate to.  More than once, I have slumped next to a grieving family member and spoken words that seemed foreign as they left my tongue.

It's in God's hands now.

Seeing the comfort and relief, I no longer feel like a hypocrite.  While never my personal path, clearly religion brings solace to many.  Because of these experiences, I believe I have reached a sort of truce.

And this evolution largely parallels the truce we as physicians must reach with death in general.  The great bain of the modern American physician, it has taken a paradigmal shift to convince some of us of the true value of palliation and hospice care.

Like religion, we don't have to love it.

We don't have to strive towards it.

But we must learn how to embrace it to ease the great suffering of our patients.

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