the hope of healing

As I reflect over the past six months on learning to become a doctor, I think of how my perspective of illness has shifted. As a healthcare worker, you see people at their most vulnerable, when they are in the greatest need. Yet throughout illness, each patient retains their identity as someone who exists outside of the hospital walls—this, to me, has become some of the most important work I do as a medical student. Looking past, reaching out, and seeing people for who they really are and what they really love. Not only seeing those attributes but also allowing people to bring their dignity, identity, and personhood into the hospital room.

I see mothers, fathers, and young people who have faced life-changing illnesses that prevent them from doing what they love in life. I see women in their 50s who have scars from breast cancer or who can’t speak in full sentences because of COPD.

I see a 70-year-old man who had an intracranial hemorrhage that damaged his sense of memory and self; I see his wife transform from a lover into a caretaker, and I hear her yearnings for a husband who once walked 30 miles with her in Europe.

I see a man, struggling with substance use, silently cry out for help behind a composed, stoic face as he searches for a solution to his suffering and pain. I hear him talk about suicide ideation in one breath and his two daughters in another.

I see a girl, near my age, who has been in the hospital for 3 months now, and I see pictures she’s painted posted up around her room with a view that spans the Charles River. It’s a beautiful view, but she wants to see anything else in the world.

I see a mother, with her two toddler sons running around the exam room listening to cartoons on iPhones, as she mourns the loss of her sister to sudden cardiac arrest. She went to sleep and never woke up.

I see a grandmother start crying as she describes the pain she feels after a fall she endured. “You can’t even understand the pain I am in!” Honestly, I can’t. I’ve probably never felt a pain like hers before—physical pain mixed with loneliness, uncertainty, and fear. She’s way stronger than I’ve ever been.

That’s where my fear comes in, the awareness of the fragility of life. I see my mother, sister, brother, boyfriend, niece and nephew, dad, grandparents, best friends, and future children in the faces of all those who suffer openly in front of me. I try to dip into their pain, to feel what they feel if only in that moment—to protect myself—but find myself overwhelmed by the emotion they bring to the conversation. I fear how a single moment can transform everything—the moment a cell becomes cancerous, or a fall becomes a brain injury, or a goodbye becomes the last one.

This confrontation with illness is new to me, and I’m still learning how I will embrace the reality that life is fragile yet somehow malleable. In the context of my own existence, it makes me realize how precious life is right now, at this moment. It encourages me to take walks, read books, call those I love, and, honestly, it sometimes makes me wonder about choosing a career that separates me from my family and hometown. There is no doubt about it: medical training is hard emotionally, socially, and physically at times. There are days of studying unimaginable hours. There are disparities and heartbreaking realities in medicine. There is powerlessness and emotional warfare.

Despite these considerations, being in medicine gives me hope. It gives me an understanding of humanity. Amidst all the suffering, pain, sadness, and illness, people are relying on their providers to give them hope. That is why the woman with breast cancer is sitting in front of me with scars that gave her cure, or the man with the intracranial bleed can walk 2 miles with his wife now instead of being confined to a chair, or that the woman with the toddlers is learning of her genetic cardiomyopathy so that she doesn’t leave her own children behind. They are given hope through the medical system, research, and intervention. More than anything, my patients teach me to have hope. They remind to align my life so that I can do those things that I would being doing if I woke up tomorrow with a life-changing illness—enjoy the sunshine, prayer and community, the arts and humanities. They also encourage me to be a part of the system that provides hope to those who feel hopeless. Yes, I see life as more fragile now than I did six months ago, but I’m also much more appreciative of what it means to be healthy and alive. I hope to continue evolving my understanding of illness, suffering, and death as I meet more people, gain more perspective, and realize the blessing of medical care.

 

divinity

Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Sometimes, as a student that studies science, I feel like I have a special vision into what God’s divine nature and eternal power looks like when displayed in a physical context. I feel advantaged to be able to interpret God’s divinity and sovereignty over all things in a context unusual to most. God’s infinite powers “have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I take this to heart. I am found out of excuse when it comes to an argument against the creation of man by a skillful and intricate Creator. As a lover of science, I admire the challenges that scientists face when trying to discredit creationism. On this one though, I can only see through the lens of a God Most High. Yes, my answer to “How is the world created?” is a simple “God spoke life into all things.” And I am sorry if this doesn’t appease you, but truthfully my stance is not to satisfy the natural curiosity that man possesses. My desire in these matters is only to search for Truth and to find it in a way that remains objective and unemotional.

I say my desire because I do not always fulfill this query. Remaining non-subjective, I will. I can hear the facts of the Big Bang Theory or the evolution argument, and I will ponder them and explore them with you. We can learn about them and challenge them together. Through these experiences, you will see that your faith in a scientific concept is just as strong as my faith in a divine Creator. Your faith in random interactions of matter is equivalent to my faith in the Word of God. However, my faith is discredited, maybe due in part to the sociocultural evolution of Christianity. I won’t deny that some people present Christianity in a way that may be quite different from what one may say is the “right way” and on this, I have no discernment except for to encourage the recipient of the knowledge to search and explore the word for himself. Nonetheless, Christianity gets a bad rap in the world of intellect and reason. Taken face-value, maybe I can understand. But when investigated, these “highly intellectual and logically sound” persons are taking their belief to a level beyond my extreme. Matter collided, and the world progressed through time to evolve into what it is and who we are today. I just have difficulty with this, and maybe this is where I fail to remain unemotional. There are undoubtedly some parts of Christianity in which I also have difficulty understanding, too. I will support science when presented with the facts or laws that rest within scientific realms. I will support science when presented with partial facts but at least a clear and comprehensible reasoning. Perhaps my feeble and weak mind cannot comprehend how particles interacted in a way that eventually led to the ability for the human body to thrive the way it does. Do I think creationism is a short-winded way to the Truth? No, I think creationism is the Truth. God spoke life into me, and into you, and into every plant and animal, and living being on the earth. I believe this because it is seen clearly to me. I see beauty in life. I don’t see discrete (but abstract, in a way) collisions of matter that came together explaining what we know today about biology and biochemistry. Life is too complex, and inconceivably amazing, for me to settle with that lacking answer.

But if you believe we were made in this way, I don’t mock you or undermine your intellect or belief. I just challenge you to search for Truth in other ways. Tunnel-visioning belief is belief built on rocky ground. Explore creationism. Try to see life through my perspective. If you saw beauty in the way topoisomerase is signaled to start assisting DNA for replication the same way I do, I promise your life would be more meaningful and utterly inspiring. I don’t love God because He makes my life more meaningful and utterly inspiring, because I love God my life is more meaningful and utterly inspiring. God’s divine intervention is evident through so many things. Aside from tangible things like the ability to survive and complex cellular biological processes, nontangible things like the feeling of being embraced or laughing uncontrollably are indicators that someone out there loves us more than particles colliding can provide to explain. Human cognition and consciousness gives me faith in Someone more powerful and of higher capacity than me. Someone that transcends all things. Science can’t explain everything…which gives me reason to believe that a God Most High can (although maybe not while we are here on this earth).
The truth is we don’t have the facts to it all. We don’t have answers, and there are some questions we probably never will have answers to. But we should search for the Truth. And whatever you believe, or if you believe nothing at all, at least experience the beauty of life. Because whomever, or whatever, put it there is clearly trying to display to us a small portion of the magnanimity and all-encompassing beauty we may someday get to experience more fully. My troubled, but hopeful, soul rests easily in that.