I read with interest an article about Dr. Mark Pool, a highly-regarded heart surgeon in Dallas who prays with his patients. He claims that no one—not even those who don’t believe—has turned down his offer to pray before surgery.
Well, duh. If you need open-heart surgery, and you’ve been referred to this guy by your family doctor or by your insurance company, are you going to tell him, “Hell, no. I don’t want you to summon the invisible man to help you do your job, doc!” If Pool believes that a 2000-year old historical figure named JC is guiding his hands as he performs surgery, then he might also believe that you are a follower of Satan. Would he be less interested in saving one of the enemy’s foot soldiers? What if someone answered, “You could make a believer out of me if I wake up after this surgery?” Would he work harder to save his patient?
In all fairness, according to the plethora of Medscape articles I’ve read over the past couple of years, this is a serious topic for both physicians and patients. People who believe seem to be more at ease when a doctor prays. And doctors who believe seem to think prayer really does work. (Keyword being “think.”) Sometimes I wonder if that’s all it takes. However, studies have found that:
“First, intercessory prayer itself had no effect on whether complications occurred after CABG [coronary artery bypass graft]. Second, patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive intercessory prayer.”
In other words, believe whatever the hell you want, but prayer is simply like taking Xanax. It might be calming to the patient, but it has no effect on the actual outcome of the surgery. (The study states, “We have no clear explanation for the observed excess of complications in patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them.”)
There was another physician interviewed for this article. Dr. Rohan Jeyarajah, also prays with his patients. He says, “We have to be careful about being in a position of perceived authority and not overstepping that bound. This is like a teacher-student relationship. There’s a chance you could be inappropriate.”
Wait, what? Anyone other than doctor is a student, an amateur, a neophyte?
On the contrary, we are customers, and doctors, as evidenced by the bills they send to us, are running a very lucrative business. Just as we would not expect a pilot, a dentist, an attorney or a professor to put his hand on our shoulders and ask that God help guarantee success, we should not expect a doctor to do this.
No, you would not see this crazy sh*t in any other profession, but I suspect that all patients tolerate this because specialists are small in number and because people just want to get better, no matter what kind of crazy belief system the doctor holds. What some doctors seem to forget is that they are medical professionals, not faith healers, and we are their paying customers.
I have been to a doctor who is very religious, and I must admit, that I am a little wary. What educated man or woman believes that there are spirits helping out in the office or the operating room? Do these doctors have such little faith in themselves?
And this is where we may find the only benefit for those of us who don’t believe in god. If a doctor truly believes that god is on his team, that god is working through him, then perhaps he has just a little more confidence in his skills. For an atheist doctor, maybe he or she is not as confident. After all, they would be aware of the truth: we all are fallible, fragile, flawed–no matter how much education we have. A doctor who doesn’t believe in god knows that it’s just him and his staff and the patient, and he’s counting on his team, his education and his experience to do his job successfully.
So for some doctors, it seems, god is simply a placebo.
What do you think? Would you trust a doctor who wanted to pray before your or your child’s operation?