Recently a neighbour met with a doctor colleague, and thanked the doctor for being instrumental in her cure and recovery. “She was the Hand of God” the lady gushed.
Flattering as the comment was, it set me thinking. The first thought that came to mind was the absolute faith that the public repose in physicians and healers they trust, an act of abject surrender after a point. A leap of faith. Call it the placebo effect, or the “doctor as drug” syndrome, but this faith in itself goes a long way to contribute to a favourable outcome. Several medical studies have suggested that this is true.
The second thought that struck me is how easy it is for us doctors, if we hear gushing praise like this often enough, to start believing that we ourselves are the power, a power that we do not truly possess. Think of the term just used, “Hand of God”, for example. What does it conjure up in your mind? The right hand of God in the Michelangelo painting, (the creation of Adam) as He condescendingly deigns to reach out to Man. It summons up thoughts of power, bordering on invincibility, and the arrogance that can come with it. How many doctor colleagues do I know, who have fallen into this trap? Quite a few.
But the truth is, we as a profession are as fallible as in any other. All of us have made our share of mistakes; we all have memories of cases, patients where we should have picked something up earlier, intervened sooner, even done quite the opposite of what we actually did. Sometimes the consequences of the “error” were trivial, but sometimes they were not.
Even the steeled nerve and steady hand of a brain surgeon, the quick reflexes of a colleague in Casualty (A&E, or ER in other parts of the world), the cold logical mind of a neurologist, all these are miracles, no doubt, but they are also so fragile. A blow to the head from a traffic accident, a viral encephalitis, which could happen to any of us, at any time, can take all of this away in a heartbeat.
However, the term “hand of God” also can convey a more realistic image. We have all in the profession heard of the saying “I put in the sutures, but God heals your wound”. In this context, we are true “hands of God”, mere instruments of the actions of a Higher Power. And this applies to us all, regardless of what we or our patients choose to term this Higher Power, andeven if either doctor or patient choose to deny the existance of such a Being. When I think of myself as the Hand of God in this context, it makes me humble. But it also makes me feel privileged to be chosen so.
And to take this term in its broader sense, we are all Hands of God, whether physicians, or any other profession, or even those who are not in any such convenient pigeonhole. As long as our thoughts, deeds, words help to do Good, we are all Hands of God.