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I often find myself forgetting my patients' spirits. It's not because spiritual intervention wasn't appropriate, or that the patient was adverse to prayer or spiritual discussion, but I simply didn't think about it.

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For example, I had just finished asking a middle-aged woman about her sexual history. She had been monogamous for twelve years, had two children with this man, and had a positive chlamydia culture during one pregnancy, but she did not think it was sexually transmitted. She came into our inner city clinic complaining of vaginal discharge. After talking with her, I peered into the microscope to find the field teeming trichamonas.


I sighed, wrote a prescription and entered the room to give her the news. Then I explained that this was a sexually-transmitted disease, so her partner had to be treated and she needed to talk to him about his other sexual activities. I forgot her spirit. It was after I escorted her out the door and said a vacuous "Have a nice evening," that I sensed a void. Although I did everything I was supposed to do, I felt as if I didn't accomplish much. I had addressed the physical issue of her vaginal discharge, but I didn't address the spiritual issues of broken trust and betrayal.


I had experienced this feeling before while waiting for a taxi to take a teen mom and her dehydrated baby to the hospital. She had come into the clinic because the baby had diarrhea, unaware of the seriousness of his sunken fontanel, poor skin turgor and a face that looked like an old man. She was overwhelmed with a baby. Now as she waited, quiet and scared, I tried to prepare her for what to expect at the hospital. When she left, I felt a void. I had forgotten to give her an opportunity to ask God to look after her baby and calm her fears.


I usually feel this void after patients have gone. The Holy Spirit reminds me that I forgot their spirit and needs. But why doesn't the Spirit give me this nudge while I'm with the patient? I believe it's a combination of the routine driving me to the next patient, my trained focus to treat the physical ailments and my inexperience that causes me to ignore the Spirit's nudges until I've finished my job and realized it wasn't enough.


I didn't listen to the Spirit's nudging on one October morning. I had seen Isabella previously. Now she was in for a pregnancy test. She had an abortion in August and was terrified that she might be pregnant again. When we discussed her positive test, a storm of emotions swirled across her face-disbelief, shock, despair and fear. Isabella talked about her fear of having another abortion. She feared God would be mad at her. She felt God let her get away with the first abortion without punishment.


Eventually, she looked at me and asked, "What do you think?"


I was a coward. Instead of saying that her baby was precious, alive and needing protection, that killing a baby is wrong, and that our choice comes before a child is conceived, I tiptoed around the topic. I mentioned something about fear and regret, hugged her and asked her to see me in a week before making a decision. I drove home devastated, knowing that God had given me a direct window to speak truth to someone who sought and trusted my opinion. When Isabella came back to the clinic after her second abortion, I felt like some of the blood was on my hands.


A middle-aged woman with a broken relationship, a teenage mother overwhelmed and afraid, a young woman filled with guilt yet motivated by fear and shame-each needed the opportunity to experience the healing power and presence of God in their spirit. Each had her spirit overlooked because of my inexperience, rush or lack of courage.


Unfortunately, I have forgotten the spiritual aspect of my patient's illness more than three times. However, each omission reminds me to incorporate God's whole-person-healing into my practice. I see slow improvements, as I ask the Holy Spirit to prompt me to offer prayer or probe deeper into a situation. I want to remain malleable, to recognize when I have not been God's faithful messenger, to repent and to ask God to give me another chance.