The only time I have ever prayed was at the foot of a hospital bed. Medicine has its roots in religion, and even now for some patients, spirituality is such an important aspect of their lives that treatment without prayer would be unthinkable. In my brief time in the hospital, I have seen what some might call miracles, but I have also seen unconscionable suffering.
For some, perhaps even most, a religious community provides support and resources that can sustain people through even the most challenging times. A person with strong faith can often weather any storm and find hope even in the bleakest of situations. Yet this may also have a dark side. Though many have benefited from their faith community, I have also seen patients cast out and betrayed because of their sexuality or tortured by the idea of ludicrous sins. For every one patient visited by angels, I have seen a dozen haunted by visions of demons. I have often heard religion described as an exoskeleton. It is a scaffold that can either support a being whose essence has been dissolved or a suffocating cage.
This dichotomy is also reflected in the use of religion as a tool in the hands of providers. Is it our place as physicians to disabuse a patient of a toxic idea rooted in their religion? Should a provider offer their faith, unbidden, as a means of support? These questions I will continue to grapple with as I grow into becoming a doctor.