Lay People and Their Role in Medicine
Jiří a Markéta Královcovi
Poster presentation at the 8th Congress of the European Federation of Catholic Medical Associations - Medicine and Our Image of Man; Prague, June 5-9th, 1996
1. Our image of medicine
Medicine as a discipline sets its own image of man; and a man, similarly, creates his own image of medicine.
Both the images (and many other ones, by the way) depend on our answers to questions about the purpose of life, about the role of man in this world, about our Creator.
Modern medicine is often said to be inhumane - despite its potentially inhumane appearance, however, medicine meets human desires and wishes and is deeply rooted in our image of world.
Modern medicine meets the need of many people to be freed from the burden of personal responsibility (and co-responsibility) for one's own life and gifts he/she has been given, for other people, for the world.
The poster presentation is not meant to be judgmental in any way - we just attempt to share our authentic experience: the experience of "lay" people doing their voluntary work in the field of health-care.
2. "Lord, what is the sense of all this pain?"
September 1988 - June 1989. Our first personal contact with children in a hospital ward. How to please them, to make them happy? How to lessen their suffering? Should we bring something special for them? Toys, books? Should we cook something? Take them for a walk? Or just to talk? They lack their mummies most...
Lord, what should we do with all that? What is its purpose? How could we help?
Our calling was not left unfulfilled. In years that followed, we met with dozens of people and heard stories of their lives. The Lord has also allowed us to live in modesty (with not much money at hand) and thus to realize our entire dependence on Him. Our need of various "crutches" in the form of sophisticated psychological techniques and abstract theoretical knowledge has lessened, and our hands started to become - still more and more - empty. At this very stage, we started to really feel and experience the true help, strength and peace coming from our Lord's hands. To be with seriously sick people allows you to see their despair, pain, inner calling - but often also the solution. To turn. To change. To learn more about the sense of suffering. We are so grateful for this "school of life", school without marks and text-books.
You placed us, Lord, so close to other people's death - to enable us to feel it, to realize it, to be afraid of it, to think about it, to be less afraid of it at times. You have allowed us to see human life properly and better understand its true value. You gave us all this also to encourage us to act in harmony with the voice of our conscience...
It is this voice of conscience that tells us also to speak openly about what we have sometimes encountered: expecting humble and humane service to other human beings, we've often found mendacity, malevolence, indifference and theft instead. More money can do no good here. It is just the change "inside of the people" that can.
4. Illness as a part of the God's plan
Many times, we have seen a doctor almost "own" the patient, govern him, and put the patient away once all the curative efforts have failed. The illness, however, is not just a "mistake", a "Nature's fault", an imperfection in the God's plan: on the contrary, it is a regular part of such a Plan! We shouldn't just pay the lip-service to the Lord and to act - at the same time - as if the body had no soul in it, as if the whole life-story of the patient's family were senseless, as if the patient's life and fate were not individual and unique, as if the Driver of his patients' life were the medical doctor.
Hospitals came into being to enable people to better help others, which is a truly Christian idea - yet it often meets a very unchristian realization. The - sometimes vitiously impermeable - mutual "loyalty" of some health-care workers can often be overcome just thanks to the invaluable help of "laymen", "people from outside", who are both financially and emotionally independent on certain hospital malpractices.
To get so close to sick children and their families - and not to be a part of the health-care system at the same time - that is quite a difficult task and a great chance also; a chance to somewhat weaken the fabricated and menacious ritual that attempts to show materialistic medicine as a panacea for all the illnesses.
"Had somebody listened to me, he would have thought I was mad. I talked to my son despite the fact that he seemed to be unconscious. I was reading fairy-tales to him. (...) I was given time enough to ask him for forgiveness that - as a mother - I hadn't always been the best one."
Mother from Moravia whose son died from cancer after long treatment.
"They were telling me to go home, they told me that she didn't need me anymore. They just didn't want to have me in the ward. I remembered the advice you had given to us during our stay in Prague: "If somebody asks you to leave the ward, keep asking why. Let them tell you the reason. If they speak, say, about the "hospital hygiene", just offer to take a shower and change your dress completely..." I said just this to the doctor and he, having seen I really insisted on being with my daughter, allowed me to stay. And I am very happy I was allowed to be with her all the time...
She kept saying: "Mummy, it is so good of you that you are here, with me. Mummy, please, don't cry." On Tuesday morning, she was just a tiny motionless body. At half past three in the afternoon, she breathed her last. (...)
Some people said: "The doctors didn't heal her anyway, so it would have been better if she had died earlier, at the very beginning of her illness. What was the point of the life she was living." But I don't agree. We are very happy that she could live four more years. Those were labouriously gathered splinters of happiness."
Mother from the northern Moravia.
"When we first learned the diagnosis, it was like a blow. My husband used to cry down in the cellar so that we couldn't see him... And here (pointing to a wooden crucifix above the door), here I used to pray and ask the Lord not to take our daughter from us. To leave her with us. She had the tumour on both her ovaries. And it disappeared before the planned operation. We thank to God every day since then."
Mother whose daughter was almost miraculously healed.
5. What is our hope focused on?
There is one crucial moment when truth starts to be revealed - the very moment when all the therapeutic means available to the materialistic medicine have been tried. (I'd like to point out here that "materialistic" shouldn't be simply confused with "material"). In such a situation, the family with a seriously sick child have to re-realize and re-accept the diagnosis, they have to experience the severe blow again and suffer - once more - the pain from the impending (and yet unimaginable) loss of the child. If the doctor attempted to behave as the saviour and refused to give the family the opportunity to participate in the treatment plan, he had thus misled and misdirected their hopes also, for he had depicted just himself, his profession and his methods as the ultimate "target" for the family's wishful thoughts and expectations. Such a scenario only gives the patient and his family minor and marginal roles to play in the story of the illness...
It is often at the very moment when there is no more hope from medical point of view, that the patients and their families begin to be more authentic and spontaneous, addressing their hope to other (and sometimes more proper) places.
Very often the last earthly days of the patient (or the time after he had passed away) set the family onto an entirely new path of dramatic inner changes, of new and fundamental discoveries. To be with the families over this difficult period often means to catch a glimpse of the most personal secrets and mysteries. It cannot be properly verbalized or even put into newspaper stories - but unlike such stories, it doesn't lack a very deep sense.
6. "Lay" people and "layship" in medicine
Hospitals and other health-care organizations, if they are not based on love and true will to help, do necessarily become more or less inhumane. The system is gradually introduced that makes distinctions among people, a system that clothes injustice in fine words. The "lay" people, people coming from outside of such institutions, may sometimes help to remedy some of the faults, they may act as a channel (or as one of the channels) for love and for fresh, common life to come back into unnatural settings.
This is behind the self-help hostel our Foundation and Association set up for parents whose children are hospitalized in the largest children's teaching hospital in our country, the Motol Hospital in Prague. The "parents' hostel" came into being three years ago and its inhabitants take part in keeping it running. Over 650 parents, grand-parents and siblings of sick children from all over the Czech and Slovak Republics have already used it. The hostel consists simply of several modestly furnished rooms but it does offer much more to its inhabitants than just a bed to sleep in - it also offers them a friendly and supportive atmosphere. The parents who stay there can, and often do, share their fears and hopes, their experience, help one to another...
Once a patient and/or his family assume their share of responsibility for their lives, once they start thinking not only of themselves and their own needs but also of those of their fellow-people - a profound healing process begins. Healing of the conditions of the physical body may not be so fast and obvious but each of the people involved becomes healthier as a human being.
"I never will forget the moment I was told that my treatment was successfully over. Since then, I have been feeling the need to do something for other people, for those who are in the same situation and position I used to be some time before..."
Jarek, former cancer patient and one of the keenest helpers and supporters of our Foundation's work.
The idea that sin and illness are in certain - and a very specific - way interrelated, is as old as the illnesses themselves. Realizing the illness as an important and influential (this means also positively influential) part of a patient's life, Mr. Ctibor Bezděk, M.D. set up a new medical discipline in the Thirties, which he used to call "ethico-therapy" or "healing through morality". Ctibor Bezděk was a famous physician of his time and a deeply religious man; he did most of his publicly known work before 1948. There was a ban on his books under the communist regime for his thoughts were found to be "ideologically unacceptable".
Some of Ctibor Bezděk's findings and concepts have, however, never came out of date - today, they are reflected in practical work of some of his followers.
Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act.
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