The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16, NRSV)
During my first year of medical school, I spent two weeks in cardiology at private hospital in Florida. I’ll never forget a patient named Faith. She was an elderly woman dying of congestive heart failure. Two things struck me about Faith: first, her edematous legs were the most severe I had ever seen; and second, her tired, red eyes were windows of deep pain. The cardiology fellow told me Faith had been in the hospital for twenty-six days, and she would probably die there. He was aggravated because every time they would get ready to release her, she would avoid discharge and relapse.
During rounds one morning, I remember how Faith shared that she couldn’t wait to get to heaven, so she could have a drink with her husband. The attending physician jokingly said, “I am not sure going out for drinks is possible in heaven.” The attending then looked intently at Faith and asked, “What will it take to get you to go home this week?” Faith politely smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
Upon exiting the room, the fellow and the attending began discussing Faith’s situation with frustration. They concluded that Faith was destined to die in the hospital. They didn’t write it on her chart or say it verbally, but I could see it in their faces: they had given up on Faith.
The next day, while visiting Faith, I learned from her how afraid she was to die. She feared she wouldn’t be going to heaven because she had taken God for granted and couldn’t be forgiven. As I stood next to her bed, listening intently, I felt impressed to pray with her. Feelings of worry rushed over me. As a visiting medical student in a hospital that was not church affiliated, I was concerned that I could end up in trouble.
So I hesitated; but as I looked into her eyes, I felt God saying, “Go for it!” So I took a deep breath and asked Faith, “Would it be helpful if I prayed for you?” A shocked look came over her face. She exclaimed, “You would pray for me? You would do that?” I was beyond the point of no return and replied, “I would love to pray for you.” She slid her bruised, frail hand across the bed and grabbed mine, then closed her eyes.
I began to pray, focusing on God’s unconditional forgiveness and love. As I said, “Amen,” I looked up at her face. Tears were freely flowing down her cheeks; and she squeezed my hand ever so tightly and whispered, “Thank you.”
The following day, as we entered her room, something had changed! Faith emphatically declared, for the first time in over a month, that she was ready to go home. The attending didn’t believe it when the fellow told him, so he had to ask Faith himself. Her reply was even more convincing the second time.
Sometimes we may be out of tests to run, or medicine to prescribe, or even convincing arguments to motivate change in patients’ lives. However, we will never run out of our ability to provide hope and encouragement to our patients. The “power of prayer” and the “love of Jesus Christ” are two of the most powerful instruments of healing within a physician’s reach.
-Daniel Westerdahl, LLUSM class of 2010