Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Doctors who Pray for their Patients

doctor prayingDr Vinod Kumar Nigam, a laparoscopy surgeon at Apollo Gurgaon, has always been quite spiritual and prays for his patients for forty minutes every morning while running on the treadmill. Do prayers do any good to the treatment of patient? There is no well-proven medical answer to it. But when medical practitioners like Dr Nigam are embracing it earnestly, they must be getting some substantive outcomes from their religious dispositions.
“We have noticed in several cases wherein two patients are suffering from same disease and same treatment as well as same food intake is given, but results still vary. That is the time when we feel helpless and concede that there is some heavenly force which is influencing the well being of patients,” says Dr Nigam.

His tryst with god happened when he was in Yemen and witnessed two civil wars in 1986 and in 1994 and was assigned the job of treating war victims. “Every time, I saw a wounded victim, my heart would bleed. That was the first time I started praying for my patients. It actually did a miracle and we could save 700 patients, barring a couple of them who couldn’t survive,” says Dr Nigam.

There are a few researches, which corroborate the “notion” (if not a fact) that prayers have miraculous powers. Based on National Health Interview Survey, people who attended church more than once a week compared with those who never attended church had an estimated life expectancy of seven years longer. Researches are going on, though in India, these beliefs are generally slammed by medical fraternity and no known researches are conducted in the public glare. But in western nations, the faith is fuelled by continuous explorations, undaunted by a couple of grim results too.
As per the Benson and others in American Heart Journal in 2006, patients receiving or not receiving intercessory prayer before and after coronary bypass surgery had the same complication rate of about 52 per cent. However, if patients were aware of receiving intercessory prayer then they had a higher complication rate of about 59 per cent.

Despite a cold shoulder from fraternity, many Indian doctors firmly believe in the intercessory prayers. Different doctors do prayers at different times and for varied reasons. Like Dr Ramesh Sarin, oncologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, prays whenever she feels helpless. “Once I was finding it difficult to locate a vein and struggled for around two hours while operating upon a high brow patient. Then I prayed to god, and there it is! I found the vein,” claims Dr Sarin.

There are several senior surgeons like Dr Sarin who take refuge under the “Supreme Power” when medical science purportedly fails to deliver. Dr Sharat Chandra, a neurosurgeon at AIIMS, had great faith in medical science till the time he was in medical school. But when he started implementing his academic knowledge into practice, he realized that medical science doesn’t have answers for some simple questions. “Why does a patient die when all special care is being taken after possible medications are given. This is the reason that I pray before I start any surgery. I pass the buck to the almighty and rest assured later,” says Dr Chandra.

These intercessory prayers are not unusual for doctors anywhere in the world, but some doctors are so spiritual that they worship god quite “religiously”. Dr Sushil Sharma, chairman, Arthritis Foundation of India, holds a one-and-a-half-hour Gita session every Sunday morning at his home along with a few friends and gathers not less than 40 people. On weekdays, he meditates everyday without fail. “Meditation and prayers have miraculous powers which even medical science doesn’t possess. They defuse our health problems which are stemming from psychological factors. It is noteworthy that around half of the ailments arise from these reasons only,” claims Dr Sharma.

Though it is controversial whether prayers yield anything for patients, but its one fallout is for sure. They make the doctors god fearing which decreases the chances of medical negligence, believes Dr Nigam.

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