Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hands, Mantles, and Vocations

St. Teresa of Avila wrote,
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
As I've moved along the journey to being a physician, I've often looked at my hands and marveled at what they have and will do. I am (almost) used to the strange permission persons grant to me with their bodies. As a hospital volunteer, I was allowed to change the diapers of total strangers; as a phlebotomist, people I'd never laid eyes on allowed me to insert needles into their arms; as a medical assistant, patients would tell me about their medical histories; as a premedical student, people allowed me to watch their encounters with their doctors; as a medical student, people allow me to examine them so that I can learn to discover fibrocystic changes in breast tissue and nodules in thyroid glands.

A doctor's knowledge and capability is bestowed on him in a series of thin mantles of study and experience. These mantles are invisible: they impress and are incorporated into our souls. And it is these mantles that I marvel at occasionally when I look at my hands. How God has clothed them with incredible graces, and how much more will come of what He has given already!

I received a remarkable mantle last semester as I learned to perform a physical exam in Clinical Skills class. However, my school teaches the male and female genital exams at the beginning of second year (about three months after the rest of the body). I was disappointed when I learned this, because I expected it would retard my experience in the preceptorship between first and second year. I thought, as a future OB/GYN, that it would be good to receive this mantle as quickly as possible.

God has His own timing. He put the learning off for a few months. However, last week, I received this mantle: I was permitted to perform a pelvic exam for the first time.

This layering of mantles isn't unique to medicine; all of life is like this, as we receive graces and our souls are shaped into the saints God has in mind. However, the changes in a student doctor are particularly demonstrable, and as I receive each permission (like [scrubbing] and [suturing]) I take notice and thank God.

All this language of receiving mantles reminds me of religious habits! My career closely resembles a religious vocation: a religious sister is visibly clothed because of her special relationship with God, I am invisibly clothed becaus of mine to patients; her habit changes as her vocation matures, as does mine; she restores God's image in souls as I do in bodies; she sets aside everything but Jesus by vows, while I set aside everything but patients by profession. Of course, I should probably say that my career is even more analogous to a married woman's: she doesn't always wear her wedding gown (as I don't always wear scrubs or a white coat), but she is invisibly changed by the intangible desires, vows, and actions that called her to marriage and keep her in it.

Medicine, marriage, and consecrated life...becoming a saint and doing God's will is so beautiful!

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