Monthly Archives: December 2015

Musings on Practicing Medicine & Faith

Musings (because musings seem grace-inviting) on the practices of medicine and faith – because time has been plentiful here at UCSF Benioff.  And because I process my way-too-many thoughts through writing. Thanks for being on this journey of hope with us! 


Practice: perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. (Google)

Practicing medicine, seems to be a lot like practicing faith. 

Practicing infers hoping in both regards, yes?

For most of my life I’ve tended to look upon doctors as gods. They were the mega-educated, mega-knowing, mega-fixers. My heart bowed before their presumed omnipotence, even as my mind knew they were but human. 

My faith tended to evolve over a similar course. I tended to look at priests and pastors as gods too. What they said mattered. Greatly. I was taught not to question. But, after a few experiences in diverse Christian traditions, what they said, differed greatly. I began to question.

When one pastor (eons ago) told me I was not permitted to attend another church, the rebel in me, (I mean seeker-of-more), went anyway. What was being hidden from me? I wanted to practice other understandings, and wonder if there was a better fit for the person God had uniquely created me to be. I mean, seriously folks, how could there be just one model of faith for the great God of the universe – how could it be that certain? And so I explored a few traditions, interestingly finding peace amidst the uncertainty of an exacting representation of faith. 

Over the past decade or so, I’ve left the realm of certainty in some matters of the Christian faith. So much reverence, beauty and creativity in the ways in which the people of God incarnate (represent in human form) God’s presence and hope for the world. It speaks so much less of exacting, certain ways of living and reflecting – and much more so of shades of grey. Practicing. We’re practicing toward hope in gaining understanding about what is helpful in our pursuit. 

Dylan’s rehab doc said this morning that he likes to refer to the practice of medicine as the art of medicine rather than the science of medicine. Love these snippets that just show up. Surely medical practitioners must carefully develop and rehearse the art and impact of language. 

And yes, there’s my current reality that’s been unfolding over the past month. (Longer, if you count the two months prior when the spoken diagnosis was likely carpal tunnel syndrome, with a significant delay for a nerve-testing referral, due to an admin snafu.)  Again, practice, right? 

When the initial MRI came just after midnight on December 1st, and the pediatric resident came in to let us know what had been discovered, he asked if we wanted to look at the scan. My immediate emotional response was “No! I do not want to view the  mass that has formed on my son’s spinal cord, that has caused the mysterious and debilitating left-sided numbness of his fingers, hand, arm, torso and tingling of his leg.” I actually recall turning my head away so as not to look. 

Then, hearing the additional words, “…it looks to be a mass with a solid border” was somewhat comforting, and I decided that to love was to do hard things, and dove headlong into the terror of what the scan represented: I looked, even as my mind was yearning for the certainty of the words: “Every little thing, is gonna be alright.” 

Dylan’s neurosurgeon spoke with us just seven hours later, the morning of surgery, saying, “This looks to be the best kind of tumor, in one of the worst locations.” Do you hear the essence of the word practice? Not is the best kind of tumor, but looks to be. Uncertainty from the start. They know from experience, that this looks more hopeful than not. 

But they’ve practiced this procedure, and they’re gaining on it (especially here at UCSF Benioff), but there are just too many unknowns. They hope. We hope. 

Sitting with a small gathering of family and friends for an excruciating eight hours of surgery was one of the most brutal experiences of this journey. The call from the surgical suite that arrived every two to three hours was both terrifying and encouraging, and each time it was good news. Dylan is tolerating surgery fine; they are making progress, but it’s taking longer because of the complexity of removing the very vascular hemangioblastoma. They expected a four to six hour surgery. But, they couldn’t know how complicated it would be. Excruciating uncertainty loomed for eight plus hours. 

Sitting in this (amazing) hospital for almost a month has deepened my reality that faith and medicine fields seem to coalesce, or come together in similar ways – that hope is always before us, even if we can’t see it, feel it, or define it. We’re called to walk into the darkness, one step at a time, in the company of many who’ve gone before us, and who’ve practiced a hopeful path toward healing. Some things are simply unknowable. 

What I keep hearing here at UCSF Benioff are echoes of uncertainty. There are some certainties, but not many. We’re finding it necessary to sit with uncomfortable answers, that aren’t actually answers, rather possibilities, and hoped for outcomes. These amazing practitioners are doing just that – and we’re waiting to see what happens.