by: Fr. Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr., D.Min ~ Pastor Emeritus, St. James Church
Dr. Arthur Kleinman has an unusual academic assignment at Harvard Medical School. He is a professor of medical anthropology as well as psychiatry, and also an author who wrote an intriguing book, “The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor” (Viking Press). Anyone who has ever had to endure an impersonal medical environment with its diagnostic codes, and/or a snooty physician, can easily relate to the thesis of his book. (And just for the record I have known wonderful physicians as well as the “not so much”, and the experiential difference can feel like night and day!).
Dr. Kleinman got very personal in a Wall Street Journal article in last year’s November 30 – December 1 edition of the paper. He explained that for well over a decade after his wife’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis his/their lives were thrown into a maelstrom he had never experienced before. Here he is, a top physician and medical educator at a premier Ivy League University, but virtually stunned, even paralyzed, by a health care system that rarely looks past the cold, quantifiable elements of addressing human suffering.
In effect, he argues, we have TWO health care systems: one for disease with all that scientific and business acumen; another one for illness, what it feels like to need medical services. Pithily he wrote, “Disease demands treatment, while illness calls out for care.”
It’s interesting that in the old days the new minister or priest assigned by his bishop to assist a senior pastor was called a “curate”, clearly derived from the word “cure”. (In some denominations the assistant pastor is as likely to be a woman, so the choice of pronoun here should be understood generically). The curate it was who very often was called upon to make those midnight hospital visits in response to a desperate phone call on behalf of a dying father, mother, child, or other relative or friend (it certainly made sense to dispatch the younger, more energetic minister!).
I can distinctly remember the local Catholic bishop, Most Rev. Filipe Estevez, once addressing a clergy assembly and emphasizing that for them those lying ill in hospital were no mere “cases”, but people with souls, and feelings, and a spiritual sense of themselves.
Right now this country is in the midst of a horrific political tug-of-war, and I have to wonder if anyone in Congress really cares about the people they were elected to serve. I even heard that one political party wants to nail the current President with violation of federal statutes requiring “honest services”, as if they in their arrogance were “oh, so solicitous” for our welfare! Whether it be medicine or politics, what we all need now, in the words of the old song, is “Love, Sweet Love.” May God hasten our Remedy!