Why Prayer Is Essential In My Role As A Surgeon
“I just want you to know, the night before my surgery, I prayed for you, Dr. Liza Marie Colimon. God knows you and sees what you do.”
She even included my middle name. It was the best compliment I had ever received from a patient.
The conventionality of Western Medicine keeps discussions of spirituality in separate spaces from the exam room understandably so. Respecting differences with regards to religious preferences and customs is mandatory. My goal as a physician is to treat and not offend, especially practicing medicine in diverse ethnic and spiritual communities.
I struggle as it is; letting my intentions be known hoping patients see past my age, race, years in practice, big hair, and the setting in which I choose to serve. Everyone presents to see me with a different energy, beliefs, biases, and expectations on what a doctor should look and “be” like. After submerging myself in the field of medicine starting in 1998, sensing peoples’ thoughts and feelings towards you becomes instinctive and an art form.
The power of prayer
I couldn’t help my authentic response; after all, she started it. “Well, that is beautiful to hear, because I prayed for you too.” I can count on two hands how many times I’ve honestly told my patients that I prayed for them. She told me how she prayed for me as she lay there with a pleased look on her face. The entire conversation took place just after sunrise as I went to see Shayla (I’ve changed her name for privacy) the morning after her 7 and a half hour ovarian cystectomy and myomectomy procedure. The procedure progressed as efficiently as it could have with destructive endometriosis and large fibroids.
She told me a story during my rounds. She said, “I first asked the nurse, what procedure did I have? When she told me Laparoscopic and Robotic. I then asked her how long was I under? When she told me 7 hours, I smiled and said God was doing his work through my doctor.” The thought of her praying for me felt like a gift.
As a human being, a spiritual seeker, as a woman, and as a doctor, I believe in the power of prayer. And my prayer before treating any patient is always the same, for clarity and guidance. “Spirit, let me do your work, work through me, guide me.” I reassured her that I spent my morning before surgery in meditation and prayer. I don’t talk about my spirituality with patients but it has been the cornerstone of my life’s path. Believing in spiritual power and a presence greater than myself, I’ve known I am not alone nor do I work alone. You see, Doctors pray to spirits too.
I removed eight fibroids, the largest 12 cm robotically. And before that procedure, I spent two hours laparoscopically removing a 16 cm endometrioma and reconstructing her ovary. The stakes were high as she presented at 31, single and without children. Preserving her ovary and saving her uterus was not an option.
Before trusting me to perform her surgery, I sent her to a well-known oncologist as she had an elevated tumor marker, CA -125, that is often seen in patients with endometriosis but can also be high in ovarian cancer cases. The oncologist offered her an open procedure even though suspicions were low.
Shayla found her way back on my exam table and scheduled a separate visit one more time just to “feel your energy and be sure”. I respected that so much as taking note of the energy around me has been my guide and litmus test in life. She told me she knew I was her surgeon and felt confident, especially after our third meeting. Little did she know, I had run into that oncologist two weeks prior to her scheduled surgery. As I passed the physician in the hallway they inquired about “that patient with the large endometrioma and fibroids,” I mentioned I had it scheduled and had a plan. “I doubt you’ll be able to do it laparoscopically,” they said. All the more reason for me to meditate and pray a little longer.
Spirituality and medicine
In light of the recent discussions and controversy over dismissing alternative medicine and the ideal that talking to spirits to promote self-healing is absurd which has landed one gynecologist major press coverage in prestigious platforms such as the Boston Globe and New York Times, I want patients to know not all doctors are the same. Sure, many of us battle with inaccuracies that are found on the internet and envy the celebrity platform which may deliver biased and blatantly wrong information.
Misinformation was one of my major influences driving my vision for Health Vows. But I’m also open to whatever works for my patient. I counsel them regarding what information is useful and what is myth. And if I don’t know, I refer them to a practitioner, herbalist, acupuncturist, or therapist who has dedicated their life to their field of study as I have.
I feel there is a place for both conventional and homeopathic medicine, rituals and practices. I have a deep respect for evidence-based medicine but also recognize studies are often biased, flawed, and non-representative across racial and ethnic lines. Sure, I don’t believe an herb cures fibroids; but I know my surgical procedure can. And if one has cancer I believe in the chemotherapy and the all-natural diet. I would not forgo one for the other.
I believe it is all divinely inspired. Open dialogue is key. I’ve prayed when diagnosed with a chronic gastrointestinal illness. I’ve then listened to a pastor deliver a message that changed my life and perspective about having that illness 15 years ago. I’ve relied on Reiki therapy to get me back to work after developing Torticollis when western medicine had no answers. I’ve used affirmative prayer and spiritual mind treatments to curb stress, anxiety, frustration and to manifest divinely inspired ideas.
The key is respect
Social media loves a good story, a good fight. But I want to set the record straight. The image of a doctor is often a rigid one, crafted by the seemingly privileged lives we lead, malpractice lawsuit winnings, greed driven ideologies, wrong site surgery outcomes, and press coverage on interesting controversies.
But know what you see and read is not inclusive of every physicians’ perspective or experience. Perhaps even imagining a doctor praying would bother an atheist or agnostic. Or knowing a person is Jewish instead of Muslim, or Baptist instead of Catholic may strike a cord. But one thing is for sure, many doctors are “open” just as there are many who are not. It is up to you to find the right match for your needs.
I believe doctors must meet patients where they are and be open to the many beliefs and practices that are embraced. We must embrace your journey. Only then will we be able to add our unique level of expertise to one’s healing process and gain trust.
Eastern cultures have embraced science and religion and often found ways to incorporate both. Before medicine made major breakthroughs, before we figured out how to perform surgical procedures and companies could mass-produce medications, people relied on their faith, spirituality, control of their thoughts, and natural medicinal properties found in herbs, plants, trees, and nature to bring mental and physical healing.
I believe in and respect it all; Spirit, God, Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Ganesha, St. Germaine, spiritual guides, and the list goes on and on. I sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” on Christmas accompanying my family in Catholic Mass and I recite Sanskrit Mantras in the privacy of my meditation space. I enjoy most messages of unity and interconnectedness at the Center for Spiritual Living Boston and I read the Daily Word and Science of Mind Magazine.
I am not confused, I am enlightened. Your ideas, questions, controversies, and willingness to consider alternative therapies are welcome here. Not all doctors are the same. Doctors pray too.
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