Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 9, 2000
Bring a healing touch
Levan urges health care workers to offer compassion
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
As Christian stewards, we are charged with the responsibility of making sure that people who are ill have enough when they pass through the health care system.
That's one message the Rev. Christopher Levan gave to the 57th annual convention of the Catholic Health Association of Alberta and Affiliates Sept. 28.
Levan, a United Church minister and former principal of St. Stephen's University College, also called on delegates to help preserve the reverence for the healing touch and the values of compassion and love in health care institutions.
"The principle behind medicare was the extension and preservation of the idea of distributive justice; that is to say, that everybody got enough," Levan told delegates.
"It is our role as stewards to preserve that kind of system which ensures that you have all that you need, no more, no less, like the parable in Matthew that you get according to your need, not according to education or label or money. There is no distinction made, except the distinction of human need."
Levan said the primary responsibility of Christians in the health care system "is to ensure that all have enough no matter who they are. No jumping the queue just because you've got the cash or you're impatient."
The minister said he suspects that current practice in health care today is giving "lots of one kind of care and not enough of another kind." That means patients are getting more in terms of medical techniques than in terms of love and compassion.
But as he put it, "There is a subtle distinction between curing the disease and healing the illness."
"In the desperate struggle to be fiscally responsible have we lost sight of the tension of this other practice of love and compassion that is part of the restorative tool we bring to human brokenness?" he asked, noting there are two sides to being sick.
"There is the disease and then there is the illness."
Levan recalled suffering from appendicitis some time ago. It had to be treated or he would have died. "But there is an illness to it; that's to say how I and others cope with the sickness or disease. In the process I discovered that disease treatment and illness treatment are quite different."
The healing of the illness came from a radically different source - love, touch and attention from family, friends and community.
"It's abundantly obvious to me that total wellness requires attention to both of these factors: care and compassion are as vital as drugs and physical therapy when it comes to the restoration of wholeness in health."
He gave the example of a man with an incurable disease he met while in hospital himself. "It was not only the pain of the disease that was killing him, it was the illness; that's to say the unpleasant smell, the sense of his own impurity, the anti-social barriers that were built up because his bodily fluids imposing that kind of arms-length treatment, the isolation and fear of contamination that he and others had."
That was the real illness the man had. "His self-worth was rapidly eroding as he was becoming an untouchable. During my stay one of the nurses arrived on a Saturday afternoon with a vase and a towel and for 15 minutes she gave this sick man a backrub and massage.
"She touched him. It made all the difference in the world. You could see the expression in his face. This was a real healing touch because someone by touching him had said, 'You are still part of the community. You are still lovable, you are still touchable.'"