logo 2252

About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

submittomorevoices

Prayer

A Stroke of Faith

 
“SIGNED OUT AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE,” declared the last line of the ER physician’s note, bold and foreboding.

I quickly skimmed through the rest of his chart. Mr. Lopes was an elderly Haitian man, a recent immigrant, who had visited the local emergency room for a bad headache, only to discover that his blood pressure was astronomical. Apparently, Mr. Lopes and his family considered him too sturdy a man to be retained at the hospital overnight, labeled as sick. So he fled.

And here he was, weeks later, to meet his new doctor. “BP: 190/100” read the nurse’s note in red.

Thoughts on Prayer

 
After all my years of theological training and all my years of experience as a minister, I have come to a simple and rigorous definition of prayer. Prayer is the discipline of listening to the heart of God (one of many names that can be given to the Divine Spirit of the Universe). It is not the human rhetoric of advising God as if God needs to be convinced to do the right thing.

One Was Answered

All through November he prayed, “Please God, help this pain, and please help me find out what is wrong so I can heal.”

Through December: “Please God, when I see the doctor, don’t let it be cancer. And I beg you to please help this pain.”

In January and February his prayer changed to, “Please God, let the chemotherapy and radiation work.”

Praying to Pray

 
I was 25 years old, a fourth-year medical student, and suffering from a severe depression. I was getting cognitive behavioral therapy (which was then fairly new) from a psychiatry resident at my medical school. I was a good patient and kept a journal describing my therapy. About a week after thinking seriously about suicide, I wrote this prayer in my journal:

Presence

I take a deep breath in and let it out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I wipe the sweat off my palms, adjust the newly-minted stethoscope draped around my neck and knock on the door.

A voice croaks, “Come in,” and I enter the room to find the patient on the chair. His eyes look tired.

Nunc dimittis

 
My father, a pathologist, was diagnosed with late-stage gastric cancer soon after I was married. He knew exactly what the diagnosis meant, but he enjoyed life for another two years. Then he stopped responding to treatment and began to decline over the winter. He and my mother were happy to learn I was pregnant with their first grandchild, due in June.
 

Our Father...

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

When I found myself alone with a family and their dying son, the familiarity and dependability of the Lord’s Prayer was the best I could muster. Not yet a family doc, I was a fresh seminary graduate, struggling as a chaplain to bring comfort in the face of impending grief. Familiar words, with which we could together come before the Almighty, seemed the best place to start.

"Groanings Too Deep for Words"

She hadn't been able to talk for several days. I don't know what robbed my mom of her speech. Was morphine the culprit, with its ability to dull both mind and body? Did sheer exhaustion from laboring over each breath leave her too tired to talk? Or maybe her pain was so severe that she could not give voice to its intensity. But what she couldn't speak with words, she spoke with groanings.