I’ve posted a piece on this blog on the issue of faith and reason in healing. Indeed, the protagonist of that post is an inspirational figure, a selfless man who exudes grace and humility. I was honored that the post was shared with many Catholic clergy who appreciated my heartfelt words for one of their own.
Faith and reason reentered my medical universe recently.
A patient underwent surgery to resect a colon cancer. The tumor had metastasized to the lymph nodes, an unfavorable prognostic event. The surgeon entered the room and advised the patient that her survival is likely limited to 1 to 2 years. The patient and her husband were devastated. The distraught husband spent the next 24 hours sobbing in a painful and despondent state. He related the tragic news to his three children, ages 3, 5 and 8.
Was this the appropriate time for the physician to relay such ominous news to a patient and family?
Was it prudent for the overcome husband to share this traumatic news with his three young children?
Readers’ responses to the above two inquiries may be influenced by knowing that the long term survival of colon cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes is 50%, which varies substantially from the physician’s doomsday scenario.
The patient, while still recovering from surgery in the hospital, experienced a healing experience that she will remember until the end of her days. Her 3-year-old daughter approached her and told her that she is not going to die because God told the young child that her mother will live. The patient related that she felt an unusual sensation that began at the top of her head and rippled slowly down her body until it reached the soles of her feet.
The woman received no chemotherapy or any other treatments to the tumor.
So, whom do you believe, a trained medical professional or a 3-year-old child?
Since this surgery occurred in 1985, and the woman is thriving and well today, it is clear which of these two were correct.
The patient is convinced that she was divinely healed and this experience has understandably deepened her Christian faith.
I am not a Christian but I have enough humility to know how limited physicians like me are about the art and science of healing. Faith and reason can coexist. Is there truly a will to live? Can prayer heal the sick? Men of hard science also pray to God. Is this a dichotomy or a fusion?
Every physician has seen patients recover whom we were certain would succumb. Does science have all the answers? Does faith?
I do not offer this woman’s anecdote as proof of divine healing, although her young child’s bedside pronouncement seems providential. There are many medical cases that carve a course that I would not have predicted and do not understand. What forces may be at play there? I can’t say for sure, but I know many believe that prayer may be more powerful than our most potent prescriptions. When you’re staring down a miracle, is that the time to diss the Divine One?
Will traditional medicine enter the New Age universe? Will the Gates of Reason welcome faith?
Any readers with relevant experiences are invited to share them
This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.