While I lack certainty in my faith, a church has always been a sanctuary. And while I land in church rarely, and even less in this pandemic, when I’m in one, in any country across the globe, a certain feeling comes to me. My favorites are old, gothic, with a musty smell and an imposing altar, windows of colored glass, and soft candlelight—a hushed sense of solitude, of peace. I sit, on the walnut pew, in a smooth indentation worn in by other mothers and daughters who quietly held similar hopes, regrets, and prayers. Sensing belonging, I give myself permission: to be human, to hurt, to forgive, to care, to grieve.
A hospital feels like a church to me, another sanctuary. While some may see sterile floors, bleak alarms, and harsh overhead lights, a hospital holds the same ecclesiastical feeling within its walls. I have seen this before. You are not alone. In a hospital, late at night, I can feel the raw and tender hope, the quiet cut of pain, the beauty of life and of death.
Religion and medicine themselves are not dissimilar. Both rely upon tradition, faith, ritual. Both are practiced. One might find healing and a miracle in either. Sacred codes, said and unsaid, echo in their histories. In religion: hallowed texts, holy garments, the order of the service, the songs of prayer. In medicine: the laying of hands, the white coat, the structure of the written note, the shape of an oral case presentation. Ceremonial baptisms, white coat ceremonies, funerals, graduations. Oaths of marriage and the Hippocratic oath.
Ultimately, both aim to relieve suffering.
But filling the walls of sacred temples and churches is a congregation of people. A community that comes together to celebrate their shared practice and their connection through their shared beliefs. Holding each other up, returning over time, joining hands, giving thanks. Connectedness. Belonging.
Filling the walls of hospitals and clinics, you will find the doctors, but rarely together. The rituals performed, performed alone. The practice without celebration. We do not sing of our shared experiences, our profound grief, our tremendous gratitude, the depths of our love. The mouse and the cursor share my thoughts; the stark ring of the Spectralink marks my indoctrination. Isolated, disillusioned, demoralized, burning out. Our candles burned to the wick, shapeless wax remains.
Couldn’t we, the practitioners of medicine, practice together and not alone? Fill the aisles to celebrate our tradition? Amidst this most trying time in medicine, congregate and demonstrate signs of peace, harmonize in our shared journey, genuflect to our shared sorrow? To signal that our experiences, the ones that take our breath away, are part of our common path and our uncommon privilege. Sensing belonging, I would give myself permission. I am not alone. My uncertainty isn’t weakness. The scars on my soul are not invisible.
Unyielding physicians. My congregation. Hold me up.
Lindsay A. Mazotti is a hospitalist.
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