I am a man of deep faith. I am not even close to the standards to which I aspire every day, and at the same time, I will die trying to be the best believer I can be. It is impossible that I leave my faith at the door of the ICU; it is part and parcel of who I am, the air which I breathe.
Each and every day, I am witness to the awesome power of the Lord’s Healing in the ICU. I am humbled by His Omnipotence when, despite everything I do, my patient is not going to survive. And I am awed by the overwhelming beauty of His Grace, as He comforts those suffering the loss of their loved one.
That does not mean that I would ever – ever – impose my religious faith on anyone else, most especially my patients. That would be unethical and inexcusable. My patients’ beliefs, values, and preferences may not align with my own, but it is my duty to practice within the red lines of the beliefs, values, and preferences of my patients.
“We are believers,” my patients’ families say. “I believe in God,” many of my patients say. It does not scare me, or make me uncomfortable in the least. On the contrary, my response is: “I am a believer, too. I also believe in God.”
In fact, our shared belief in the Precious Beloved is an asset, not a liability. We come from the same Fountainhead of Life; we share in the Warmth of His Grace; we bask in the Light of His Love. And so, when my patient or their family says they are believers, I welcome it wholeheartedly.
And I am comfortable with the language of faith. I understand its frame of reference, and of all the situations of life, critical illness is one in which the flame of faith – even if long extinguished – frequently is rekindled anew.
We doctors should not shy away from faith. If it would be of benefit, we should share our faith and spirituality. Some of my colleagues have prayed with their patients; others have offered counsel within the same faithful frame of reference.
Frequently, when speaking about goals of care and the end of life, I will say, “If his or her heart stops, despite everything we are doing, then that is God telling me that He wants him or her back more than I do. Why, then, should stand in the way?”
I recently saw a nurse ask for a moment of silence after a patient did not survive cardiac arrest. I was so moved by this that I have started doing it myself whenever I attend a “Code Blue.” I wrote a prayer – in the form of a poem – to honor organ donors, and I try to read it whenever we honor a patient on their way to donate organs to others.
My faith strengthens me as a physician. It was solace for me through all those dark days of the pandemic. And, I pray, that my faith makes me a better physician for all those entrusted to my care.
On some level, there should be distance between my patient and me; there should be some level of objectivity, so I can think straight and do all that I can to help my patient survive critical illness. And, there should be no room – whatsoever – for my imposing my religious beliefs on anyone else, patient or otherwise. Ever.
At the same time, my faith and spirituality allows me to connect on another, deeper level with my patients and their loved ones. It helps me be more compassionate. And, if my faith allows me to be a better instrument of God’s Healing Presence, then that is something that should be embraced and celebrated.