of the most honest lectures that I ever heard was from Dr. Brian Maurer
during my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course in Ireland. According
to him one of the greatest difficulties of the medical profession
is that doctors have come to see themselves as healers and try to
sell themselves to patients as such. This, and the slogan, "the
physician has failed if he does not eradicate disease," is, according
to him, a heresy. The fact is that a big percentage of diseases are
degenerative; they are just part of the process of growing old, and
so they cannot be cured. All a physician can hope to do is to delay
the process and lessen the discomfort. Another big percentage like
AIDS and some kinds of cancer are incurable. A third group are self
limiting and would cure themselves anyhow. The physician may then
be able to help cure some of the remaining. If the physician's self
image is that of a healer he will be meeting failure most of his life.
We tend to walk away from failure and so some physicians tend to ignore
the patients that they cannot cure. On the other hand, if the physician
sees him or herself as a carer there is no patient with which they
cannot be successful. Every patient that goes to a doctor feels unwell
in some way and a caring doctor can help the patient to reduce or
at least cope with the disease that they experience.
Dr. Maurer there are four C's necessary for the doctor. Care for the
patient. This means that the needs of the patient come before one's
own needs. These may be one's need to be successful, or at least to
appear to be successful or to get wealthy, and they may get in the
way of real caring. Compassion. This means feeling with the patient.
There are physicians today who make the patient into a thing. They
look at reports and tests about the patient but never listen to or
touch the patient. They never try to get the feeling or the perspective
of the patient which may be a very import element if the patient is
to be helped. Communication. Good communication puts a patient at
ease. If the sickness is named or at least the process of diagnosis
is explained, the patient becomes less frightened. It is very important
to answer questions honestly and not to tell the patient lies. However,
it is also important to assess how much of the truth a patient is
ready to hear. Very often a doctor's assessment of what the patient
can hear will bear a relationship to the doctor's personal capacity
to deal with the fear of death. Finally there is competence. No amount
of impressive communication will make up for knowing what you are
doing. Quack doctors do not help patients.
Maurer's lecture came back to me as I read the tenth chapter of John's
Gospel which is about the Good Shepherd. This, the only parable that
John records, tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that he
is the gate to the sheepfold. The model of leadership implied by this
title is in contrast to leaders who lord it over those who come under
them. In Jesus we find care. He cares so much that he is willing to
die for us, his sheep. In this way he becomes the gateway opening
up new contact with the Father for us. He is also compassionate. The
thing that distinguishes him from the pharisees and the other leaders
of his time is that he is compassionately present to all situations.
The other leaders were more often present in a condemnatory way. Jesus
communicates, he takes time to explain his teaching to the crowds
and to go into greater detail with his disciples. In this he often
experienced the frustration of not being understood. His patience
probably came from his constant presence in prayer to his heavenly
Father. Above all, while caring for the world, he did not cure all
of its woes.
self perception will follow our prayer just as our prayer will follow
our self perception. If we see ourselves as people who will right
all the wrongs of the world we will tend to pray in a way that seeks
power from God to accomplish the task. But if we see ourselves as
followers of the Good Shepherd we will tend to be more still in our
prayer, more like the gentle shepherd, gentle toward ourselves and
gentle towards others. We will be gentle in the confidence that God
cares for each of us and we will bring that care to those we encounter.
Our way of doing will flow from our way of being.