Sunday, January 15, 2017

Suffering and Joy in Catholic Medicine (CMA Conference)

I went to the CMA conference last October and spent most of the time with my poster and networking with people. I was late to almost every talk! There was lots to take away, but there were also things missing.

From Ashley Fernades' talk before the first panel began, I took away that not all hard days are bad days. The idea that suffering and joy are not mutually exclusive is still hard for me to integrate with my life. When I am exhausted, I have no energy to be happy. My reason accepts that happiness and joy are not the same, but when there is no reason for satisfaction besides God it is rather hard for me, a sinner, to be joyful. Dr. Fernandes made it a point to say, on day one of the conference, that joy is a choice made each day.

Bishop Conley drilled this further. Joy seems like hard work, he said, but it is possible with Christ. He can work a total transformation in us. Our entire lives must be missionary joy, it's an unshirkable responsibility. This doesn't have to be overwhelming, the Bishop said. This is cor ad cor missionary work--one heart to one heart at a time.

Michael Aquilina spoke on the emergence of the hospital, which paralleled the rise of Christianity. Mr. Aquilina observed that there were resources for hospitals in the ancient world, but the hospital only came about once a religion that valued solidarity, charity, human dignity, and the redemptive value of suffering became legal. He asked a rather chilling question: will the hospital survive in a post-Christian world? I think it's already gone in most ways. The hospital now is a cog in healthcare and research systems, embedded with lots of bureaucracy for the purpose of payment and prestige. Of course, as long as there is illness and as long as there are charitable caregivers, there will be that spirit of merciful care of the sick. But the hospitals of St. Basil, St. Pio, and even St. Theresa of Calcutta are not the ones that western doctors work in now.

Then came the practical advice of John Travaline, a physician and deacon who spoke about practicing like a real Catholic. He stressed the importance of seeing opportunities to restore human dignity to those with diminished personhood, to look for chances to be present to others (e.g. don't double book, imagine the workplace as a holy place, make your office accessible). He stressed that wounds are a sign of God's presence, chances to participate in Christ's restoration of man.

Finally, Dr. Greg Burke reviewed a sample examination of conscience for physicians. Several things were relevant to this theme of missionary suffering and joy. Am I ashamed of my Catholic identity? Am I plagued by guilt without sin (blamed or self-blaming for a case when you acted according to your conscience)? He reminded his audience that it is humanly impossible to know everything. "Don't beat yourself up for being human," Dr. Burke said. Strive to become more and more a saint instead, consult appropriately, avoid scurrilous conversation, and don't worry about the messiness of how it plays out.

All these men encouraged attendees: find in medicine a chance to become Christlike. It was a great message.

This post wouldn't be complete if it ended without my personal reflections on going to the conference. Perhaps this is because I'm used to the breakneck pace of residency, but I found the conference a little slow and a little repetitive. For the first time I was frustrated with the CMA for ignoring a few elephants in the room. Why wasn't anyone talking about NPT and evidence-based gynecology? Why wasn't anyone talking about virtue-based pediatrics? The conference was refreshing because it was more anecdotal and had a looser schedule (very effective for burnout prevention), but I was still hungry for more at the end. Going through the talks again was helpful, but I wish there was more original research and open discussion at these conferences.

Also, is anyone bored? Does anyone want to help me rig an arduino so that people can light electronic candles in my chapel by posting to this site?

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