Healthcare with Compassion and Faith
Knowing that Swami is always with me has given me courage and confidence to face the challenges I encounter. As an obstetrician-gynaecologist, I am often placed in situations where the life of the mother or baby is at grave risk. These are the times when faith in God becomes an integral part of my practice of medicine. When firm faith is associated with unselfish love, I believe that the prayers addressed to Bhagavan are bound to reach Him.
Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has been an integral part of my life since I was nine years old. I am blessed to be in a family with four generations of Sathya Sai Baba devotees, many of whom are physicians. From an early age, I learnt about Bhagavan and His teachings from my grandparents, parents and through Bal Vikas. Over the years, I not only studied many of Swami’s Discourses but also became increasingly aware of His teachings on healthcare and the essential hallmarks of a good physician.
Heart-to-Heart Relationship with Swami
My introduction to Swami’s teachings began early in my life during Sunday Bal Vikas classes. The transformation that Swami’s teachings brought about in my parents left a deep impression on my young mind. From their personal lives to their careers as physicians, Swami guided them to walk the path of selfless service, rooted in deep-seated love for God. He became the focus of their lives as well as mine. Around this time, my grandparents decided to move to Prasanthi Nilayam. This was a blessing for my sister and me as it allowed us to spend our grade school and college summers at the Ashram. We anxiously awaited these trips, often leaving for India on the same day our classes ended. I felt an immense peace and love in Swami’s presence that drew me back to Prasanthi Nilayam every year.
It was during this time that I built my heart-to-heart relationship with Swami. At the same time, I had the good fortune of being a volunteer in the Sathya Sai General Hospital in Prasanthi Nilayam. It was then that I was first exposed to Sathya Sai Ideal Healthcare in action. As with all of Swami’s institutions, love is infused in every encounter with a patient and the hospitals are transformed into “temples of healing”. Working in such a hospital brought about my own transformation.
During the third year of medical school, we do two-month rotations in various specialities including paediatrics, internal medicine, surgery and obstetrics/gynaecology. I enjoyed all my rotations except obstetrics/gynaecology. I showed very little interest and put minimal effort into the rotation. Meanwhile, my father was preparing to go to India, and I needed to pick a speciality in the next few months to apply for postgraduate training. If my father had the opportunity, I requested him to ask Swami what I should specialise in. My father enquired if I was sure I wanted him to ask, because I should then follow whatever Swami advised. I had faith that Swami would choose the speciality that was best for me and insisted that my father ask Him. Upon arriving at the Ashram, my father did ask Swami, and He advised me to do obstetrics/gynaecology! I was surprised but deep down I knew that this would be the best field for me since He recommended it. Swami, however, never forces us to do anything. He has told me, “It should come from the source, not by force.”A few weeks later, I received my obstetrics/gynaecology test results and I was placed number one in the class. I also received the obstetrics/gynaecology student of the year award. I was astonished. I knew these achievements were all the result of Swami’s grace. Since then, after completing my residency in obstetrics/gynaecology, I have been happily working in private practice for several years. Not surprisingly, I enjoy the field and find it fulfilling to care for both mother and child and care for women throughout their lives into old age. The knowledge that Swami chose this field for me gives me extra confidence during a difficult surgery or when dealing with a challenging patient. I have begun to see that our interactions with patients are as important a component of patient health and welfare as medical treatment.
Compassion as Part of Medical Practice
With my exposure to the practice of medicine in Swami’s ‘Temples of Healing’ and a medical speciality directed by Swami, I was prepared to bring those same ideals I witnessed at Swami’s hospitals into my own practice. The patients’ relationship with their physicians is an invaluable source of strength for them and their family. Compassion shown by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals through small acts of kindness can make all the difference. However, providing compassionate care is not always easy during our hectic schedules. But where there is a will, Swami will provide a way. The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare works to help ensure that all patients and families are treated with compassion and supports healthcare professionals in providing it. To help foster an environment that strives to infuse compassion into every patient interaction, we recently brought Schwartz Rounds to the hospital I practise in. These rounds try to improve relationships and communications between staff and patients as well as amongst staff themselves. We are better able to make personal connections, with patients and colleagues when we have greater insight into our own responses and feelings.By building and enhancing these connections we can achieve more compassionate healthcare.
We do not get many such opportunities to talk about our experiences as healthcare professionals. Schwartz Rounds gives us a regularly scheduled time to get away from the busy floors and offices to talk about the meaning and impact that caring for our patients, their families and working with staff and our colleagues, has on us. How does the work we do affect us, challenge us and impact us in the long term? How does it affect our compassion for patients and families? It is also a time to talk about factors that interfere with compassion to others and ourselves. By discussing the complexities of our relationships with our patients and staff, we can gain better insight into our feelings so that we can overcome these barriers and bring more compassion into these interactions. Since starting Schwartz Rounds, the healthcare providers report more compassion for patients and families and a better ability to cope with the emotional demands of clinical work. There is increased patient and family satisfaction and improved teamwork and communication. Undoubtedly, the compassion shown by staff can make all the difference to both the patient’s experience and health as well as to the healthcare provider’s welfare.
Faith and Unselfish Love Surmount all Challenges
Swami’s principles of Ideal Healthcare have helped me in my interactions with patients, staff and colleagues. Swami advised me that work is worship and it should be done as an offering of love and gratitude to God. I try to go the extra step to allay the patients’ fears and address their needs, remembering Swami’s advice to treat our patients like family. When I start to feel stressed or annoyed, I try to remember that I am doing His work and therefore should ensure that I do it with love and dedication, leaving the results to Him.
Knowing that Swami is always with me has given me courage and confidence to face the challenges I encounter. As an obstetrician-gynaecologist, I am often placed in situations where the life of the mother or baby is at grave risk. These are the times when faith in God becomes an integral part of my practice of medicine. When firm faith is associated with unselfish love, I believe that the prayers addressed to Bhagavan are bound to reach Him. I pray to Swami as much as I can, especially during these difficult moments – and then, I am amazed at how smoothly things go afterwards. As a result, I can address the situation in a calm manner, confident that He will help me.
If we have full faith in God, God will help us and make us fearless. Complete faith is essential if we want to experience divinity. Swami’s principles of healthcare become “Ideal” when its practice is infused with faith.
On one occasion, I was both a witness and subject of the healing power of faith in the Divine. I had developed high fever with severe vomiting and diarrhoea after I returned from one of my trips to India. The doctors placed me on intravenous fluids to keep me hydrated. Various specialists saw me, and they sent blood samples to the laboratory for analysis. One morning, the doctor called to tell us that typhoid bacteria was growing in my blood sample. At that time, I did not know the full implications of this, but knew that it was not good from the look on my mother’s face. What I did not know was that if I were diagnosed with typhoid fever, I would be placed in quarantine and would have to miss months of school. Right after the call, my sister and I went to the prayer room and prayed to Swami to cure my illness. We had faith in Him and faith in the power of prayers. Soon after we came out of the prayer room, my mother received another call from the laboratory. They looked at the sample again and could not find any growth! We knew that this was Swami’s blessing. I fully recovered a few days later. During our next trip to India, I thanked Swami for curing me. He acknowledged that He had helped me and reminded me that He had come to me in my dream during that time and healed me.
What I need to remember always is that every patient, every incident and every encounter in our lives happens by Divine Will. He puts us in a situation and gives us the strength and support to deal with it. We should have faith in Him – this strength will then give us the confidence to face any challenge in life. Then, we joyfully accept the work and its results with equanimity and share the resulting joy and peace with our peers and patients. This is ideal healthcare.
The manner and mien of the physician are more effective in drawing out the latent sources of strength in the patient than the most powerful drug. A prayerful atmosphere of humility and veneration will go a long way to help the cure.
– Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, September 1980
– The author is Director of Education, South Bay Medical Center, California, USA.