So on call in the ED recently, I had an experience that cause me a lot of turmoil. I feel the need to post a warning to this post: it pertains to religion, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I will tolerate no Bible-bashing or ANY kind of bashing in the comments, but fair comment is most welcome (and sought).
So, it was night shift in the Trauma unit and it was insane. It had recently been pay-day, translating directly to loads of drunks, loads of MVAs, and loads of assaults. In addition to the many injuries (e.g. paediatric fractures) that occur during all times of the months.
Anyway, it was rough. The narrow corridors of the emergency wing were packed with gurneys. Patients were holding their IV bags above their heads because there were not enough IV stands. I took to wearing gloves all night long because on a night like this you can’t trust any surface to be clean. I also wore my N95 mask all night long. It was a hot-zone.
And in the midst of this, while I was rushing to find large-bore IV cannulae (because it’s a great idea to run out of those), I almost slammed into three people who were praying vociferously over a patient sitting in a wheelchair in the corridor. The group looked like a husband, wife and small daughter, all wearing black T-shirts with JESUS emblazoned on the front – and some other words that I never got around to reading. There were more of them there – many little groups, many with children.
I almost slammed into them because they were standing in the middle of a narrow corridor with way too many people in it, and they did not move out of the way. They did not move out of the way because they were praying. Eyes closed. The patient seemed pretty confused. He was also pretty drunk.
I felt annoyed. I’m still not sure why I felt so annoyed, but I have some theories.
Having grown up with the so-called very progressive South African constitution, I’m all for freedom from discrimination. So the practising of religion is really not what bothered me here.
What bothered me was
1. It’s an emergency area. Doctors and nurses are LITERALLY trying to save lives. The place is over-full and doesn’t need any bodies there that aren’t ill and in need of healthcare. When I’m walking from one room to another with a used sharp, looking for a sharps bin that ISN’T overflowing, the fewer people I can possible bump into, the better. When I’m rushing down the corridor with a gurney, the fewer people I have to BEG to get out of the damn way, the better. I’m not suggesting that we don’t need all the help we can get. I’m just pretty sure that an omnipotent being is able to hear your prayer even if you are not standing in the hot-zone.
2. It is a public hospital in South Africa. Probably half of the people in there are coughing up TB Bacillus. WHY would you want to expose your child to that, all in the name of a prayer they could very well be saying in their bedroom before bed? Why would you want to expose their fragile immune system to that any more than it needs to? Or your own, for that matter? Repeat #1.
3. Patients in the ED are in pain and are vulnerable. They are in a crazy and unfamiliar environment. Strange people come to them to stick needles in their veins and gloved fingers in all orifices. It is uncomfortable, violating and patients are out of their element. Many don’t know that they have the option to refuse certain procedures, or to refuse being treated by a student. And in their vulnerable state, they may not know that “no” is an alright answer when you ask them, “may I pray for you?” Even if the patient is Christian, it does not mean that they want someone to pray for them right then and there. They needn’t be made more vulnerable than they already are.
4. Maybe this is unkind of me, but in this country, there is room for more than prayer. When our patients leave hospital, they need to convince their employer not to fire them. Many of them need to learn to deal with new disabilities. Many of them will continue their alcohol and drug habits. Many of them have children. Many of their teenage children have children. Pray for that. Or better yet, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
An anecdote: There is a volunteer group of friendly people who come into our stable inpatient wards a few days every week. They are dressed in bright yellow aprons and come to the wards offering haircuts, washes and manicures for the inpatients. I am told they are a Christian volunteer group, but I have never heard them proselytize to patients. They simply smile and offer their free service, chatting quietly to the patients and leaving the ward with big smiles – both ways.
That, in my mind, does a whole load more good.
All I’m wondering is… was the former group-in-black ALLOWED? Shouldn’t security have escorted them out (theoretically, I mean – our hospital’s security is pretty useless)? They weren’t visiting anyone they knew, it was busy, and they were a nuisance. Most importantly, to my mind they were taking advantage of my patients’ vulnerable states, and I don’t like that.
But: is there a side to this that I am missing?