Those of you who know me well may recall that I am a die-hard agnostic. While I am unsure about the mysterious forces that create and destroy the universe, I am a firm believer in the randomness of life. Therefore, my “spiritual inner life” does not incorporate prayer to any specific deity (nor do I have a strong belief in any specific deity).
On Friday I tried my most awkward intervention yet…encouraging spiritual practice. I had just called a patient to tell him that his 2nd Hepatitis C test had come back positive, cementing the fact that he really does have Hep C. When I told him that his test was positive again, he immediately began crying hysterically and saying, “Doctor, I’m going to die, aren’t I? Ohhhhhhh nooooooooo, I’m gonna die.” I tried several conversational tactics, including reinforcing the education I had done at our last visit and reviewing the fact that all of his liver tests were totally normal (thus indicating that he will not be dying anytime soon). When that failed, I moved on to firmly saying “No, you are not going to die. Take a deep breath. Your liver is fine. I’m serious–you’re in good health. You’re not dying!” After we had been on the phone for 20 minutes, I knew I had to get out bigger guns. He had mentioned that he figured God was punishing him for his history of sexual promiscuity. I decided to take the religious route. I asked him if he attended church. He said that he does have a “church friend.” Attempting to sound as natural as if I provide spiritual counsel on a daily basis, I casually asked, “Well, do you…um…think you could pray on it with your church friend? Cause…you know…many people feel better when they talk to God about stuff.” He admitted that he might be able to talk to his friend about it, and that he thought he might pray on it a little. Whew–just like in the nursing textbooks! Check out that patient-centered care!