Practicing Medicine Observing Faith

I spent last weekend in an Emergency Observation Bed (EOB) of a local hospital. I was allowed to wear my sweats and slippers (I came prepared), as well as read my Bible and write in my journal.

What brought me there? I wasn’t exactly a threat to myself or to others, but I did feel I was on the verge of losing control. As I told my psychiatrist, I didn’t feel desperate, but doomed. He gave me a medication strategy to calm me down. It didn’t work. I called the Crisis Line. The terrific counselor there coached me through a self-assessment. I asked her to call 911. And thus began the journey that led to the EOB.

There was only one other patient on the EOB unit. I saw her only for about five minutes when she came out to eat. I spent my time reading, writing, and calling people for prayer. Three men from my church visited me. We read Scripture and prayed. We also laughed at our own humanness. The humanness that in many ways we are on God’s observation unit, the essential yet flawed system set up to care for the mind, and how we need to observe each other to promote healing and prevent our brothers and sisters from falling through the cracks.

At some point, I went to the nurse’s desk and asked if I could contact a respite house to go to when I left the hospital. I had been told I would be on the unit no more than 48 hours. The head nurse looked at me as if I had grown horns.

“We think it is best for you to go to C_____. It’s a lot like the respite house, but more stable. They monitor your meds.”

I placed a quick call to a church leader who had been involved with persons in “the system.” He said C______ was dreadful. 400 beds. Dark and dreary. More like a lunatic asylum than a humane respite center. So I went up to the head nurse’s desk, trying to advocate for myself. I was sizing her up. She was doing the same for me.

“So what kind of religion do you practice?” she asked.
“I’m Presbyterian.”
“Ah, good. Presbyterians are more progressive, more open-minded.”
“Do you have concerns about my faith?”
“Yes, some religions advise their adherents to not take psychotropic meds.”
I said, “I take my meds religiously and I pray incessantly for healing.”

This nurse who could have been an obstacle for my progress toward healing became my top advocate. She diligently contacted my psychiatrist, who told her I was very educated about my illness, that she could trust my judge. She contacted my therapist, who said I followed up on treatment goals faithfully.

What could have been a battle between religion and psychiatry, turned out to be a working partnership. Some would say this was because both sides chose to respect the other, to be humanistic in offering care. I believe it is more an exceptional example of God’s grace working through faith and medical science.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)