Thursday, December 23, 2004

The True Meaning of Healing

The winter sun was hanging just above the treetops, bathing the exam room with honeyed light as I sat beside a patient with cancer who was about to receive discouraging news. After two successful rounds of chemotherapy new tumors had been discovered in his liver and lungs. In order to have any chance for further life I would need to find an alternative treatment, one that would now be considered successful if it merely halted the progression of his disease. The chance for cure was gone. I began to steer our discussion toward the truth he must face.

Sometimes a talk with a patient is like a game of cards, where each person plays with the goal of winning the other over to his point of view. I had just laid out my best hand and expected my patient to agree that my plan aimed for goals that were now limited but realistic.

His reply to me was unexpected: "I know I am going to be healed."

I had just been trumped, and temporarily lost the power of speech.

As I wondered how to respond I knew that refuting his statement would be discourteous. Although I felt that his disease was beyond any hope of eradication, to argue with him over the issue of the miraculous cure would imply that there is no place for faith in the care of a cancer patient. To deny the value of faith is wrong in my view - faith is a great source of comfort to the patient. It is a great source of peace - and of healing. This led me to consider the nature of healing itself. Even though my patient was referring to healing of the body, could there be other types of healing hidden within this ordeal? Could he actually be right - that he was destined to be healed, but not in the sense he thought?

We doctors tend to focus our efforts only on restoring the body - on disease removal, which we then are proud to call "healing". My patient may very well become the recipient of an inexplicable cure, but even one who beats the odds will someday reach the end of life and die, despite continued pleas for more healing. This limit is the destiny of all patients - and their doctors, too. Perhaps we all should therefore reflect on whether healing is confined only to the restoration of physical health - or does it transcend this boundary?

As I prepared my response to my patient I considered what I had overlooked:

I thought of the healing that comes when we believe our life has been blessed by the God who provides eternal life.

I thought of the healing that comes with the final relief of our pain and suffering, for as we die our disease dies also, never to torment us again.

I thought of the healing that comes when we accept our fate and are released from the anguish of demanding more time.

I thought, most importantly, of the healing that comes with an appreciation of the greatest gift a dying patient can ever receive - the love of his friends and family. Whether the life lived was one of acclaim or obscurity, rare it is to find one who dies forgotten.

Healing is more than just a purging of is peace of mind, which provides a greater benefit than the doctor's potions. Peace of mind is the elixir of renewal, which lifts the sun up over the horizon in the morning, showing the world that we are ready to meet the day's challenges. It is the healing that once applied, never dies.


At 1:40 AM, Blogger Cav said...

I think the healing is done in my mind, but not in my body...

my body needs to catch up with my mind...


At 3:02 PM, Blogger DisappearingJohn said...

I am curious as to what your actual response to the patient was...

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

I told him that there are many types of healing and to not just focus on one, only to neglect the appearance of others in his life.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger jon said...

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God luck with it : )

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