Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Patient and Suffering

The Patient and Suffering In reading the November 2014 edition of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (Vol. 48 No. 5, pages 1004-1008), I came across a powerful article written by Robert J. Vitillo, MSW, ACSW, entitled: Discerning the Meaning of Human Suffering Through the Discourse of Judeo-Christian Scriptures and Other Faith Teachings. I will refer to several passages as I unfold the message of this topic of The Patient and Suffering. This article will serve as the Preamble or Introduction to the larger work of Providing Spiritual Care According to Disease Process. My goal is to present a case for specialized care of patients whose disease process requires a more tailored approach for spiritual care. I cringe when discussing spiritual care with some hospice Chaplains who, when broached with the idea of specialized care of patients according to disease process respond with many variations of “I provide spiritual care the same way for all of my patients.” Even as I wrote that, I felt my own spirit recoil within me. To not grasp that patients are suffering in ways other than that of a terminally ill patient is to provide very ineffective spiritual care. My premise is that certain disease processes affect patients in various and somewhat predictable ways. The sensitive hospice Chaplain will provide care according to the spiritual markers of suffering evidenced by the patient. Vitillo quotes Fr. Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J. from his book titled, “Into the Abyss of Suffering: A Catholic View”: We experience suffering in broken relationships and alienated families, in accidents and disease, in failed dreams and boring jobs, in dying and death.” We can add to that the deeply personal suffering of David in Psalms: “You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit, into the dark abyss.” (Ps.88:7) “Awake! Why are You asleep, O Lord? Arise! Cast us not off forever! … Arise! Help us! Redeem us for Your kindness’ sake.” (Ps. 44:24, 27) “…my soul thirsts for You like parched land.” (Ps. 143:6b) Suffering is real for our patients. At the end-of-life there is a longing among many patients to try to set right relationships, resolve conflicts both internal and external, and deal with the spiritual meaning of what is happening with the disease process that is sapping energy and life away. My invitation is for you to join me in this journey of providing spiritual care according to disease process. Expect two or three entries each week. Blessings to you, Chaplains.

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