Take Your Theology to the Doctor’s Office

Two weeks after a head-on collision, the physical therapist for my friend Gina breezed into the hospital room, woke her abruptly, and declared, “The doctor wants you to take a few steps today.”

Gina gazed at me as if to plead, “Don’t let her do this to me.” We were both appalled at the suggestion. Gina couldn’t even sit up in a wheelchair without passing out from the pain. The driver who caused the wreck had died instantly; doctors had pierced Gina’s skin with four pins to set the compound fracture in her leg.

“Don’t question her doctor’s judgment,” I told myself. “Surely he knows what he’s doing.” I clamped my tongue between my teeth.

The therapist sat her up, though Gina begged to lie back down. When her mangled leg touched the floor, she screamed and collapsed on the bed. Feeling myself start to black out, I groped for the nearest chair.

The therapist looked at me helplessly and whispered, “I’m just trying to do what the doctor said.”

The next day when Gina’s new therapist arrived, he gave her some advice: “Your doctor or therapist may tell you what to do, but neither of them is ultimately in charge of your treatment. You are in charge. Don’t be helpless. If you know you’re trying your best and they demand more, you don’t have to do it. Only you really know your limits. Control the situation instead of letting it control you. You’re the manager. Remember, you’re paying us to serve you.”

Later, as I read 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, the words took on new meaning: “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

Prior to my experience with Gina, I knew God had given humans stewardship over our earthly bodies. But I’d never seen the ramifications of that truth in the hospital or doctor’s office. Yet afterward, I saw that one way we glorify God in our bodies is to manage what medical people do to us. While we have reason and the ability to speak, we are ultimately responsible for our own medical care.

According to a “Consumer Reports” survey of seventy thousand people, most patients feel satisfied with the care they receive, but half are unhappy with at least one aspect of their treatment. One in four said their doctors failed to warn them about possible medication side effects, and one in five complained that their physicians discouraged questions. Ultimately, when physicians communicated poorly, patients were less likely to follow instructions.

Another study, conducted among severely burned children, showed that those who changed and dressed their own wounds required less medication. These patients also experienced fewer complications than those who remained passive. Researchers concluded that taking an active role in medical treatment promotes healing.

Still other studies show that patients who ask questions and expect answers experience less physical discomfort, have more positive attitudes, and feel more in control. As a result, they suffer from less stress and are better able to deal with their problems.

Clearly, when we do what God calls us to do—take an active role in overseeing what happens to our bodies—we end up healthier. So here are some suggestions for good management:

1· Before having any test done, have the doctor explain its cost, purpose, average success rate, and expected outcome. Ask for a written information sheet or web site about the procedure.
2· Write a list of questions ahead of time. Many patients complain that their brains turn to Jell-O as soon as they’re dressed in surgical gowns. (The ability to think is inversely related to the size of the slit up the back.) Composing the list in a non-threatening environment will result in better questions.
3· Bring a friend or spouse when possible. Two sets of ears are generally better than one.
4· If you need it, take extra time to make decisions. This is your body and your money.
5· When beginning new medications, make sure you understand how to take them as well as possible side effects.
6· Don’t expect your physician to be an expert in areas outside of his or her expertise. Call someone other than your ob-gyn when you have strep throat. Also, if you want emotional support, talk to a friend, a pastor, or a therapist rather than expecting your doctor to meet such needs.
7· Cultivate relationships with support staff. A skilled nursing staff consulting with the physician can manage most questions. Many patients want to speak only to the doctor, which can cause unnecessary delays. The physician should be aware of test results, progress, and decisions, but others in the office can often communicate them.
8· Call before you leave the house or work to find out if the doctor is running late to avoid long delays in the waiting room. And take a book or project with you so you won’t have to reread that same issue of “People” twenty-five times.
9· Get clarification when necessary. Feel free to call and ask questions. When you hear test results, ask for normal values. Repeat the doctor’s or nurse’s instructions so you’re sure you’ve understood.
10· If you still have doubts, seek a second opinion.

These twenty-five years later, Gina’s injury has long since healed. But the lesson I learned at her bedside remains: Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. And some day we will give account to our Maker for how we treated His property. God calls us to glorify Him in our bodies, and that means supervising and managing what we allow others to do to us.

Adapted from When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden: Encouragement for Couples Facing Infertility, by Sandra Glahn and William Cutrer, M.D. (Kregel, 2010).

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


  • Sue Bohlin

    Stewardship of our bodies

    This is REALLY insightful, Sandi! Way to connect theology with doctor interactions!

    I liked your helpful list of self-managing health care. When my parents were going downhill in their last couple of years, my sister–who is a nurse and has the "ears" for medical communication–started bringing a compact tape recorder with her to doc visits to make sure that everything was captured. You never know when your brain will shut down because of news you can't process quickly enough to stay with the conversation!

  • Sharifa Stevens

    I Need This RIGHT Now

    I need this RIGHT now. I have heard so many stories about women who have gone into the delivery room with one plan, and exited with a healthy baby, but a lot of unnecessary disappointment, too.

    I know my doctor has my interest in mind, but he's juggling that along with malpractice suits, scheduling, insurance factors, and routine. It's up to me and Jonathan to be our own advocates, and by God's grace, discern that which is wisdom and best practice from that which is based in convenience.

    Thanks so much!

  • Terri Darby Moore

    Just now seeing this!

    Great post Sandy! My daughter has a chronic condition and I learned early on to educate myself–especially on how to read all the tests they perform. I asked the doctor's office to provide me the results each time they took blood. Once I saw something in her results that indicated she should immediately stop the medication she was on and re-evaluate. I was the only one to catch it! It would have been a week or more before the doc even looked at the report. Not to downplay the work of the doctors, but you are right that we need to be proactive in our own treatment. Another time when the information we were receiving was quite overwhelming and pretty bad news, I called the doctor a few hours later just to have him repeat and re-explain what he said. I was less shocked and emotional and could absorb the information better the second time around. He was HAPPY to oblige!

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