July 22, 2011

Take Your Theology To The Doctor's Office

Two weeks after a head-on collision, my friend Gina’s physical therapist breezed into her hospital room and declared, “The doctor wants you to take a few steps today.” We were both appalled. Gina couldn’t even sit up in a wheelchair without passing out from the pain.

The driver who caused the wreck had died instantly; and doctors had pierced Gina’s skin with four pins to set the compound fracture in her leg.

“Don’t question her doctor’s judgment,” I told myself. “Surely he knows what he’s doing.” I clamped my tongue between my teeth.

The therapist sat her up, though Gina begged to lie back down. When her mangled leg touched the floor, she screamed and collapsed on the bed. I started to black out and groped for the nearest chair.

The therapist looked at me helplessly and whispered, “I’m just doing what the doctor said.”

The next day Gina’s new therapist gave her some advice: “Your doctor or therapist may tell you what to do, but neither of them is ultimately in charge of your treatment. You are. If you know you’re trying your best and they demand more, you don’t have to do it. Control the situation instead of letting it control you. Remember, you’re paying us to serve you.”

Later, as I read 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, the words took on new meaning: “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … and that you are not your own? Glorify God in your body.”

Prior to my experience with Gina, I knew God had given humans stewardship over our bodies. But I’d never seen the ramifications of that truth in the doctor’s office. Yet afterward I saw that one way we glorify God in our bodies is to manage what medical people do to us. While we have reason and the ability to speak, we’re responsible for our own care.

Studies show that patients who ask questions and expect answers experience less physical discomfort, have more positive attitudes, and feel more in control. As a result, they suffer from less stress and are better able to deal with their problems.

Clearly, when we do what God calls us to do — oversee what happens to our bodies — we end up healthier. So here are some suggestions for good management:

1. Before agreeing to any test or medicine, have the doctor explain the cost, purpose, average success rate, expected outcome, and side effects.

2. Write questions ahead of time. Brains turn to Jell-O as soon as many patients don a surgical gown.

3. Bring a companion. Two sets of ears are better than one.

4. Expect your physician to be an expert only in his or her areas of expertise. If you want emotional support, talk to a friend, pastor, or therapist.

5. Cultivate relationships with support staff. A skilled nursing staff can manage most questions. Many patients want to speak only to the doctor, causing unnecessary delays.

6. If you still have doubts, seek a second opinion.

Twenty-five years later, Gina’s injury has long since healed. But the lesson I learned at her bedside remains: our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. And some day we will give account to our Maker for how we treated His property. God calls us to glorify Him in our bodies, and that means supervising and managing what we allow others to do to us.

PhD candidate Sandra Glahn teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, where she is editor in chief of Kindred Spirit magazine.  She is also the author of seventeen books that include When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden (Kregel) and the Infertility Companion (Zondervan). Author Website: Aspire2