Heavy breathing filled the tiny exam room. The rancid smell of a patient who hadn’t showered in who knows how long, smoked heavily, and weighed 300 lbs was overpowering. Greasy strands of hair clung to her face as she hunched over in her chair in her miserable existence. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t exactly what people picture getting to be a “doctor” would be like.
The description evokes a powerful image. This patient was just a theoretical one but I have seen many just like her over several clinical experiences. You may have seen people like this at Walmart or walking down the street. Same characteristic shuffle, with no hope in their eyes and no joy in their heart.
So as a physician what do we do with her? I can give her the 1-800-QUIT-NOW number just like I did the last 3 visits. I can ask her about her diet for the umpteenth time. I can tell her the importance of personal hygiene for preventing weird infections. But none of that matters. That isn’t what she needs.
What does she need? She needs a physician who can see the whole picture, the whole person, the whole problem. The idea of whole person medicine is hardly a new one with Osteopathic medicine championing the philosophy since it’s origin in 1874. It emphasizes spiritual care with body and mind care, and is one of the reasons why as a Christian I am so excited to be studying Osteopathic medicine. She needs a doctor who can share with her the good news of the gospel, who can ask about her spiritual health, who can pray with her in her difficult journey, who can point her to a supportive church family.
Christians in any field and especially medicine we need to be concerned with spiritual well being of others. Research supports that better patient care happens when physicians care for all aspects of their patients. In fact, 70% of patients actually want their physician to ask about spiritual needs. End of life costs drop dramatically when patients report being quality spiritual care too. Following our own faith has blessings in many forms, even better patient outcomes and satisfaction. I hope we never forget that.
Well our theoretical patient needs a satisfying end to her story. After talking with her about what gave her strength in life and she said she didn’t have any and was considering suicide we were able to recommend appropriate mental health services and a local pastor. She further opened up and said she began smoking and having poor dietary habits after a childhood filled with horrible abuse, both sexual and physical. Her story was so much bigger than her list of problems showing up in our clinic, but God’s grace was bigger still. Be a part of the solution and work to see the whole person in your journey in life. <3
P.S. this post was inspired after hearing a guest speaker at our school on taking a spiritual history.