July 16, 2014
By Simar Nagyal
As a part of my volunteer work with the clinic, I accompany John* for his outreach work, which consists of conducting healthcare assessments, delivering medications and/or picking up patients for the scheduled appointments. During a particular trip to a farmworker’s (Jose’s*) home, John forewarned me about the severity of his health condition.
Originally from Mexico, Jose worked on a Christmas tree farm for sixteen years until his health began to deteriorate. The stresses of farm labor had worsened his lupus and brought upon an onslaught of new illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, back/neck pains. A recent knee-replacement surgery had restricted him to bed rest, and yet, he sat upright in the chair in an effort to receive his guests. Out of work, Jose was staying in a room in the back of a barber shop. The owner of the shop had generously offered to take care of him.
Despite his clearly poor state of health, he attributed to his being alive and “bien” to God. His faith in God had been taken root when he first became sick. When he had been well, he was not very religious. As he physically grew weaker, his faith in God strengthened. Even when his body had forsaken him, it was God, who was there. God had protected and shielded his soul at a time when his world was collapsing onto him and He continued to do so. God has the power to perform incredible miracles, to heal our wounds and to cure our sickness. Of course, such miracles do not occur over night. Only after one has successfully kept his faith despite encountering the many trials and tribulations will he be blessed with a miracle. The passage of time will test him, but he must endure and maintain an unwavering faith in Him, not science or medicine. Even “a tiny speck of doubt” would prevent his recovery. He, however, had complete faith.
This interplay between faith and healing was a central theme to many of my interviews with farmworkers, indigenous and mestizo, alike. During separate discussions with two indigenous farmworkers (who were both Christian and did not follow an indigenous religion), God was repeatedly mentioned as the source of good health. Although the doctor ultimately cured a sick person through his scientific knowledge and practice, it was God who provided the doctor with the medicinal wisdom. He had the power to cure and perform milagros, but the seed of doubt could interfere with this process of healing.
These strong positive attitudes toward spirituality 1 and health are not uniquely present in the farmworker population, but can be observed among patients generally. In fact, a 1994 study revealed that 77% hospital inpatients (n=203) wanted their healthcare provider to consider their spiritual needs. Roughly half wished that their doctor would pray with them, and 37% wanted to discuss their spiritual beliefs with the doctor2. In an effort to cater to the physical and mental needs of the patient, must healthcare practices be modified to include his or her spiritual beliefs? If so, how?
1 I define spirituality as the belief in something greater than the physical world we see. It may be practiced through partaking in organized religion or some other form of personal reflection (i.e. meditation, yoga, private prayer).
2 King, D. E., & Bushwick, B. (1994). Beliefs and attitudes of hospital inpatients about faith healing and prayer. The Journal of family practice.