Sometimes my atheism tends to distance myself from my patients.
Take, for example, the woman who called for an ambulance because she had a sudden bout of severe belly ache. This had been going on for over an hour before she called and we'd been busy all day so it took us some time to get to her.
We were met by the patient herself who didn't seem to be in any pain. I asked her what the problem was.
“I had severe pain”, she told me, “it was so bad I was curled up on the floor, I couldn't breathe”.
“Go on”, I said.
“But then I called out for Jesus twice, and the pain went away”.
“So I don't want to go to hospital, if the pain comes back I'll call for Jesus again”.
It's here that I have a slight quandary – if a patient tells me that they called out for the Flying Spaghetti Monster*and he healed them, I might think that they are bonkers. But there is no way I can suggest that calling out to another imaginary being (in this case Jesus) might not be the sane response to pain of this type for fear of having a complaint put in against me.
At the end of the day, I wasn't going to get her Sectioned, so I left her at home.
A similar thing happened a little while ago, another patient who believed that praying to Jesus had stopped his chest pain and then refused to come to hospital.
If a patient tells me that the voices that he hears direct him to do things, then I consider that he may have a mental health problem; however if they tell me that God (whichever one takes your fancy) has told them something then I can't challenge that. And if there is no evidence for the existence of either of these sources outside of the mind of the person hearing them, then aren't they both from the same source?
It's strange, but when I did my mental health placement as a lowly student nurse I was told that we should challenge things that our patients would say that are just not true. Until someone can prove that 'God' exists then why aren't we challenging these apparently delusional thoughts?
It also confuses me how anyone who works in emergency medicine can believe in a benevolent supreme being, given the things that we see and the cases that we deal with. Also we are suppose to use scientific evidence** to determine our practice, which seems to go against the type of mind that believes in invisible sky bullies.
*May you be touched by his noodly appendage.
**Yes, I am aware that people who are allowed to practise their faith in hospital can recover quicker, but I might recover quicker if I have distracting and happy-making activities to take part in rather than sit around staring at the ceiling. I don't think that World of Warcraft can be considered a religion. Likewise I'm aware of the 'prayer' experiments that prove that in double-blind tests being prayed for makes absolutely no difference in healing. Show me one shred of evidence that proves the existence of God and I'll convert, until then it's a load of old hokum like the existence of the Higgs Boson.