Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The very easy road to heaven. Oh, wait...

So...there's this massive humanitarian crisis in Syria and this is leading to a refugee crisis that no-one wants to deal with. Let's build fences. Let's share them out. Let's take people who really deserve help but not those who don't (laying aside the fact that anyone who views crossing the sea in a tiny boat as better than what they're going through right now is presumably in the middle of a pretty awful state of right now). Then we have the added complications of politics and political ramifications which mean that the response to such suffering isn't based just on the person in front of us and their need. This doesn't just happen at government level, but also on a personal one.

But I was thinking that welcoming the stranger is a corporal work of mercy, up there with feeding the hungry etc, so it's pretty clear that that's what we ought to be doing. Jesus was pretty unequivocal ergo let's get on with it. But perhaps the reason that we aren't getting on with it is the same reason Jesus had to be so specific is: these things are really, really hard work. I happen to know a bit more about one of these than the others: caring for the sick. This is my job. I get paid for it, and I really like it, but when I'm on call and I'm at home tucked up in bed and I get a call at midnight with a question from a doctor or a need for medication in an emergency, caring for the sick is not fun. I think it's hard and in these circumstances I might not even need to leave my home to do it. Having said that, it is a strangely priviledged experience to go to work at midnight because someone needs my help, even while I complain. But if the additional reimbursement I receive for on call work still leaves it challenging, how much more so doing these things without obvious compensation.

I am not sharing my house with a refugee right now. And while I don't claim to know what the answer is, I think we also need to recognise that it's not just the fact of refugees and migrants and human suffering which is hard, but also responding to that. Obvious, but hard.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Recognising I can't solve the world

I currently work on an acute medical ward. Our patients are poorly, but mostly in the short term we can diagnose and solve their problems so that they can be followed up as outpatients or by their GPs. Their medical problems, that is. We have limited success with their social problems, and as for their spiritual problems...

My patients are challenging, even when medically they are straight forward. What do I saw to the young woman who has overdosed three times this week but says she isn't trying to kill herself. Can I ethically give her any medication at all to take home, even though she's in pain? Actually I would rather sit down and explain to her that she is loved and has incredible dignity and that even though life has treated her badly, it doesn't have to be this way, but I can't do that because I don't have time and I don't have any kind of relationship with her, she won't even make eye contact.

How do we deal with the patients with serious mental health issues? If I have 3 hours to review 25 patients, I can't really deal with the one agitated patient who wants to ask me a lot of (possibly irrelevant) questions, who is never there when the doctor comes to see her because she keeps going out to smoke, and who is only in hospital because their persistant self-harm makes a not very serious problem much, much worse.

And then there's our favourite frequent flyer who is frankly, bonkers, (psych assessment pending) and also seems to think that every single member of staff on the ward is there only for him. He needs a pen, he needs the phone, he just wants to talk and medically speaking, he doesn't really need to be in hospital. He's also either seriously confused, in denial or compulsive liar. As my technician said to me this morning, his readmission has ruined the whole week.

As a Christian, I know I am supposed to love these people. What I am learning though, is that the best way to love them is to do my job. So I might want to sit down with them, and their families, and their neighbours, and work out how best to look after them (because their non-medical problems are so much worse than their medical problems) and solve everything, but that's not what I'm there for, nor any of my colleagues, and their problems are the problems of the world and will definitely take more than three hours to fix, but I increasingly doubt whether anyone outside the hospital has realised this.