So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. ~ Matthew 6:34. NRSV
“Oh no,” I thought to myself as I looked at the chart of my next patient. “It’s Maria, again!”
She had come to see me multiple times in the past few weeks with sundry vague complaints, including headaches, chest pain, and muscle aches. She had also tried various medications without any improvement. After doing multiple tests, I concluded that she had fibromyalgia and recommended regular exercise.
Lately, when I saw her in the clinic, I felt very anxious, which I’ve learned is a good indicator to me that the patient has underlying anxiety. I asked her if there was anything going on in her life that was contributing to her symptoms, and she stated that there were many issues. She was struggling with her work as a janitor, she did not like her job, and she was worried about her elderly mother in Honduras.
I recommended she see a counselor to help her deal with her stress and anxiety, but I saw by the look on her face that this suggestion was not going over well. She did not think this would benefit her. I felt frustrated–how could I help her if she would not take my advice and seek additional care?
Then I noticed her necklace with the cross on it, and I realized that we had not really talked about her spiritual life. Because I was previously in the military and now practice in a large group, I tend to be “politically correct” and often do not talk with patients about their spiritual beliefs, perhaps being too self-conscious or afraid to impose my religious views on others.
But something came over me (perhaps the Holy Spirit or memories of Dr. Wil Alexander’s Whole Person Care class from medical school). I gently asked, “Is it all right if I pray with you?” At that moment there was silence, and as her face went from anxious to surprised, I thought, “Uh-oh, major gaffe; patient grievance letter, here we come!”
But then a light smile appeared on her face, and she said: “Yes, I would like that.” So I put my hand on her shoulder and said a prayer for her, asking God to help ease her burden. A remarkable thing happened–her whole countenance transformed, and peace came over her. It was a result more effective than any pill, and without any bad side-effects. After that visit, she no longer came to my clinic every week with vague complaints. Later, she told me how much she appreciated my praying with her–no doctor had ever done that before.
Several years after this contact, Maria developed an aggressive form of breast cancer with multiple complications. But, through all the suffering from that disease, whenever she saw me in the clinic, she had a sense of calm; we prayed together at the end of each visit. In retrospect, I see that I was foolish to feel that I alone had to help her–we both found that we could consult the Great Physician, and we were both better for it.