God and healthcare

hospital

My typical conversations are around teens and issues they face. Issues that range from my deep conviction that they are inherently theological to looking at identity development including faith, ethnicity and their sexuality. I also spend a lot of time raising awareness about ministry in urban settings and with those with disabilities. My conversations often take the form of advocacy which I blame partly on my personality and background in social work. The last two weeks my advocacy has turned very personal and has been about my mom.

She has been in the midst of a serious turn of health. She has MS and has for several years which complicates matters but we have hit a new level. Two weeks ago she could walk (albeit slowly) and in a three day slide she went from needing the help of one person, to two to three and then no mobility in her legs at all. There have been moments of grace, the kind and lighthearted firemen who came to help us get her in the house after we were sent home exhausted from the ER. There have been moments of sheer terror and moments of just being ticked off.

The first day we took her to an ER she had a great nurse, met with a proactive social worker but it was the ER doctor who sent her home for not finding through two test what he considered a “medical” reason to admit her. No broken bones and no blood clots… head on home. Never mind that she was completely delusional at this point and non-mobile. She had a few elevated counts but “nothing to worry about”. Granted he was most likely following some policy that he did not set but still, what’s the point of a policy in a hospital if it leads to a decline in health? (or was he a coward or too jaded at this point to look beyond the initial presenting problem?)  By the next morning we literally poured her into the car and took her to a doctor we knew. After one look, he admitted her. Turns out that the elevated counts from the day before were an indication of a growing infection that was creating a serious dominoe effect in her body. Two days ago I could not have written this post as we were bedside wondering if she was going to live or not. Today she is improving, we think, but we have a long way to go.

Ironically, for this semester I am teaching two sections of a class on spirituality and health care. It is for nurses only so the students have a vested interest in the health care side. I have spent the semester pondering and discussing the concept of the healing hospitalwith nurses. I have spent the semester with nurses who were skeptical and only later admitted they thought a class on spirituality would be a waste of time but they were willing to facebook through the hours in class hoping I wouldn’t notice. We progressed to rich conversation about their own faith, the faith of patients and families and where God was and is in a world riddled with disease, brokenness and consequences for poor health choices.

I can’t help but think how differently I will approach class tonight from just one week ago. While the class was largely designed about improving care for the patients, it also includes self care and reflection. It includes the conversations for nurses who are evaluated on their ability to follow policy and current standards of care while too often losing that the reason they entered the field was out of a sense of call and natural inclination for helping in concrete ways. We talk a great deal of the times they are blown away because medically speaking, the patient should be much worse off and the God questions that arise in such situation. We talk also of the times when patients and families have done all that is right and the worst possible outcome occurs. Where is God in that?

To be honest, I have been so busy just trying to keep life afloat while running to 2 different ER’s, multiple doctors and now a third hospital that I haven’t had much time for the God questions. My prayers melt into sleep by the time I am actually slowing down. This will change. Part of the change, or at least respite will come tonight in class when I once again join with nurses and ask the question, what is holistic health care and where is God in it?

* BTW, before this class I would have thought “healing hospital” was redundant. It shouldn’t be innovative or making headlines. It should be standard and nothing new. In fact, it hearkens back to earlier times of healthcare being more holistic, more respectful and allowing healthcare providers to work out of their strengths. Oh, it turns out it offers a better bottom line too. There are more than enough articles online if you are so interested just follow the key words, Healing Hospital.

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About Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober (PhD, Fuller Seminary) is a youth ministry veteran with ministry and teaching experience. She focuses on practical theology, urban ministry, theology & disability, and marginalized communities. She is a volunteer youth worker in her church and community, lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects and serves on the Young Life Capernaum national board. In her free time she can be found playing with her three young children, husband, and oversized dog.