Find the river

I love this time of year.  Increasingly more so than Xmas even with all its twinkly sparkliness.  Easter is definitely my new favourite.  Why?  Well, I think it’s the most hopeful time of year.  The clocks have just sprung forward giving us lighter evenings.  The birds are singing and there’s a general sense of things coming back to life.  However it’s the sense of hope that Easter brings that I love the most. And it’s hope that I want to focus on.

I was at church today and as you might imagine everyone was in a jubilant mood (there were three confetti cannons!). I expected the sermon to be equally uplifting so you can imagine my surprise when the pastor opened with how terrible it all was. People were sad, they were bereft, the church was about to get much worse.

I began to wonder if I was in the right place.  As he went on I thought about making a sign saying ‘Easter = happy’.  Spiritual nourishment it was not.  Then he quoted this by Jurgen Moltmann:

‘That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience’ 

Ok…… This was interesting.

Now I don’t want to get into the detail of the rest of the sermon – it turned out to be one of the most inspiring and uplifting ones I’ve heard in ages.  I also think that some reading this won’t be particularly interested in it. So why I am mentioning it? In that moment it challenged every idea I had about hope.

I had always took hope to be this thing that you could hold onto tightly like an unshakeable solid foundation giving you security.

Hope is also something that I have thought to have both spiritual and non spiritual connotations.  For example every year I hope that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the Superbowl. My hope never gives up until its clear they are not in the Playoffs.  I digress…. Everyone has something they are hopeful for whether it be a cure for cancer or merely that it won’t snow again.  To suggest that it causes unrest and impatience came as a bit of a shock.

In reality this is something I’ve been struggling with recently in my day to day work.  In particular the work I’m doing around education.  In the main I would consider myself to be a positive person.  When it comes to getting things done the hope is to get people to see the why in order to get to the how.

So I was surprised when I found myself telling an audience at a delirium conference that i was getting grumpy and a little fed up. I felt like I was always preaching to the converted.  We have yet to see delirium education imbedded into induction programs. It is yet to be made a priority within our clinical governance structures. We also still talk about other quality clinical indicators but not delirium.

This frustration continued into the leadership course the following week where I was challenged to essentially get my own house in order before tackling bigger or loftier projects.

I found myself thinking about a comment from my previous workplace in which I was told ‘you can’t be a prophet in your own land’.  Was history repeating itself?

I asked a colleague how they thought I was perceived by others ‘Challenging, very challenging but in a good way!’

I was beginning to loose hope.  Not faith but hope that anything I did was ever going to matter or make a difference.

‘That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience’

Today on this beautiful spring day I have renewed hope.  A sense that my deep dissatisfaction with how things are done will inspire unrest in others.  I hope it will make people impatient for things to be better.

After all we’re closer now than light years to go…….


Losing my religion

I went back to church for the first time in months. I’d decided to go back to the church I was baptised. It is a very joyous place.  My husband refers to it as a ‘happy-clappy, flag waving kind of church’.  Now it was also probably a coincidence but on this particular day there was even a confetti cannon.  Some of the leadership had just returned from a sabbatical so it was the congregation’s way of welcoming them back but still, come on, a confetti cannon people!

Faith and medicine to me are inextricably intertwined.  I could not do what I do without it.  It would make no sense.

Many would disagree with this outlook.  Now I’m not about to get all judgmental or preachy on the topic.  It is a contentious one that’s for sure.  However I do want to get into some of it.

In this service we heard about a baby boy belonging to one of the congregation.  He was undergoing heart surgery that morning and we were asked to pray for him.  I listened to the technicalities of the operation through my medic/science filter – it wasn’t sounding that hopeful.  Even if he did survive the long-term outlook was not going to be that hopeful.

Many in the congregation prayed.  Now you may question the power of prayer.  It’s ok, I get it.  How on earth is that going to work?  It makes no scientific sense.  I’ll be honest, I was even thinking that as I prayed with them.

However in that moment I was struck by just how much energy there was in the room just through the active murmuring of a prayer. Now what is it they say? ‘energy cannot be created or destroyed it can merely be transformed’.  That’s science. That’s fact. So where was all this energy going?

It would probably be the right time to mention that the baby survived the operation and is going home.  A miracle?  My scientific head can’t fully accept that – I know first hand all the scientific wonder that will have gone into making it a reality.  However I do believe that a parallel force was also at work.

More than that I know that the family will have been lifted and supported by that positive energy.  No medicine can quite do that.

For me that is what faith is all about.  It’s the bridge between the incredulous and fact.  I see it everyday in work.  All of us in healthcare will have had experience of those who, on paper, should no longer be with us and yet they are.

I think too we forget about about the behind the scenes effort that people put in with prayer and support. As doctors we are concerned with the numbers, the tests and results but a lot of the time we don’t ask about the other stuff.

In a time where person centred care is at the heart of what we do, we don’t ask what is in the heart of the person.

I think it’s one of the last taboos in medicine to be honest.  No one talks about it for fear of being labelled as a crazy nut job.

Yet, for many faith, is what comforts and sustains them though tough and dark times.  A hospital admission is just that for many.  So why not ask?

I haven’t quite figured it out myself yet.  If the person wants to talk about God then I do as well.  After one such occasion one of my trainees said she thought I was brave for doing it but admired my honesty.  I shrugged it off at the time. My view is simple – I use my God given scientific brain to figure out the medicine.  When it gets hard or makes no sense then it’s my faith keeps me from losing my religion….