Monday, June 18, 2007

Some thoughts from an exam room...

So I've been spending time in the wound care clinic and learning about the healing process for bodies and souls...

The majority of the patients who are referred for wound care have diabetes. One common complication of diabetes is neuropathy, which is a nerve disorder that often leads to numbness in hands, arms, feet, and legs. Once a person loses feeling in their hands or feet it is easy for them to injure their bodies without even realizing it. A small blister that might be a painful nuisance for a non-diabetic person can lead to infection and even amputation for a diabetic patient if it is not properly treated. Diabetes is an extremely demanding disease that requires discipline with nutrition, exercise, monitoring of blood sugar, and checking your feet.

I have been amazed and touched by the loving care that the wound care nurse and physician provide for their patients. They patiently listen to the concerns and needs of the patient before they ask them to sit in the exam chair in order to examine their wound. They thoroughly understand the healing process-cutting back calluses and applying ointment and bandages when needed.

Some patients enter the exam room with smiles on their faces, but as one woman stepped through the door her body language and tone of voice seemed to indicate that she was feeling downtrodden. She had been referred to wound care because she had two large blisters on her feet from walking. As she commented about the situation, she said that she was disgusted. I asked her if she was disgusted about the actual blisters on her feet or that she was not able to walk. Tears streamed down her face as she told us, “I’ve been doing everything they have been telling me to do—checking my blood sugar six times a day, walking five days a week to try to lose some weight—but now I can’t even walk because of these blisters. I’m just disgusted because I’m trying so hard but for no use. I’m afraid I am going to start to get depressed over it all.”

I spent some time just listening to her, giving her some space to cry, and responding with some empathy. Then, I shared with her about some of the exercises that I learned about in the Diabetes group meeting that she could do from a chair while her blisters heal. I also got her some information about Diabetes group meetings and a fellowship group that meets once a week to support one another because she felt like talking to some others with similar struggles might help and give her hope. The physician asked me to call around to area pharmacies to try to locate lamb’s wool to prevent further blisters. I was able to find a pharmacy and ask them to hold it at the front for our patient.

This encounter with this disgusted patient has stuck with me. How can we as churches and faith-based community agencies best support and care for patients who are overwhelmed by their diseases? Her situation brings to light the intimate connection between physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Where are calloused places in our lives that need to be cut away in order for us to spiritually heal and provide space for others to heal?

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