How the Priority of Prayer Helps Us Be Present in Healthcare

 How can I work in healthcare and “be” in the world and not “of” the world? Pope Benedict in an address to the youth “The Secret of a Vocation Lies in the Relationship with God” in Sulmona, Italy on July 5, 2010 spoke directly to my heart on this. 

This is what he had to say on prayer:
How can we be in the world without being of the world? I answer you: precisely thanks to prayer, to personal contact with God. It is not about multiplying words — Jesus already said that — but of being in the presence of God, of making one’s own, in one’s mind and heart, the phrases of the “Our Father,” which embrace all the problems of our life, and also of adoring the Eucharist, meditating on the Gospel in our rooms, or participating with recollection in the liturgy. All this does not separate us from life, but helps us to be ourselves in every environment, faithful to God’s voice that speaks to our consciences, free from the conditioning of the moment. … Dear friends! Faith and prayer do not resolve problems, but enable one to address them with a new light and strength, in a way fitting to man, and also more serenely and effectively. If we look at the history of the Church, we will see that it is rich in figures of saints and blesseds who, precisely beginning with an intense and constant dialogue with God, illumined by faith, were always able to find new, creative solutions to respond to concrete human needs in every century: health, education, work, etc. Their daring was animated by the Holy Spirit and by a strong and generous love of brothers, especially of the weakest and most underprivileged.”

   So now and then, while I experience that prayer does not immediately solve my problems acting as a wand of magic, I can confidently say it has enabled  me to have more strength, to endure , to really “show up” as they say. But “being present” and keeping Christ present to others—is a ongoing learning curve for me especially when putting Christ’s love in action! The following short story is one I experienced some time ago as a nurse  in a fast paced radiology department. I hope it illustrates how “being present to Christ” depends on our relationship in prayer with Him, and that “being present” is pivotal to our patients in their healing  It reminds me that even under strict time constraints we can “pray always and unceasingly .”

 (I Thessalonians 5:16) 

Here’s what happened :

A rather seasoned nurse who was in orientation, new to our radiology dept,  and who was still in orientation in MRI had quickly assessed a patient’s condition and then called me to start an IV on the patient. The nurse described the patient as “very difficult” and with a history of being a hard IV stick. She asked me to try to start the IV because the patient was extremely upset and would not stop crying- and the nurse did not feel comfortable trying to start an IV with this added stress. Before I entered the MRI room the tech also took me aside and told me to prepare for the worst. They had already positioned the patient on the MRI table and as I entered the MRI suite I was struck by the beauty of the patient. (At the time I did not know her diagnosis only that she was to have a MRI of the head and needed an IV stat.) I introduced myself to her and asked if there was something, anything, I could do to help her be more at ease. She looked into my eyes and as I looked at her I knew that her crying was not about an IV stick. I felt comfortable taking her hand and though she was still crying I said the first thing that seemed truthful and said something like, “Boy, I wish I would look this good when I’m crying.” She started to laugh and cry simultaneously and said, “Isn’t that funny? I hear that a lot. Everyone always says I look so cute!” Somehow this opening conversation communicated to her to continue talking. She began to tell me that as a single mom she had just recently attended her one and only, child’s graduation from college in June, and then witnessed this same daughter’s marriage in July. She then said, “I literally waited a year and a half to have this MRI done. I was not going to let the MS (multiple sclerosis) get the better of me until my daughter had graduated and was married.” 

In two short sentences, she told me in effect, that she had put her own needs on hold for awhile. As she said, there was “nothing anyone could do any way,” and she “did not want her daughter to be reminded of the progression of the disease.” She said she did not want to spoil her daughter’s memorable occasions. I then realized the crying was a release in a way, signifying that she had made a goal for herself and had stuck to her guns. It wasn’t a cry of self-pity or about a difficult IV stick. It was simply an outpouring of emotion, realizing that she had done what she set out to do. It was her turn now. It was OK to move on. Coming to have the MRI only grounded her reality in how successful she had been. After I gave her a Kleenex and she had wiped her tears, I asked her first if the spot I had chosen for the IV was OK with her, and then  asked if it was ok that I pray so that I would get the IV started on the first try. She said, “By all means!” So closing my eyes for a brief moment I quietly asked God to assist my hands. I then isolated a vein and started her IV .With God’s grace I got a good blood return. She asked if she could listen to music during her exam and I said, “Sure, but only if the technologist does not play “Pomp and Circumstance!’. She added or “Here Comes the Bride!” Giving a hearty squeeze to my hand, she said to me , “You are beautiful.” Giving her a wink I told the technologist, who was standing there patiently waiting for us, “No wonder we are scanning her head, she can’t see straight.” At that, she and I laughed out loud.  As the technologist moved her into the scan I left knowing she and I experienced a glimpse of the mystery of human nature and Christ’s love . We both had moved closer to what it really means to be beautiful. It means being there. It means really listening. It means being present to each other.

I know this story is only one of many patient encounters we in healthcare face all day long but it left an impression on me because in a very short time she and I were able to actually understand one another. By my allowing Christ to be present and thus being open to her heart she was able to relax and get the MRI done which -in reality turned out to be a loving sacrifice and a tribute to her daughter. Make no mistake, I do pray and hopefully I pray with more humility now, either by praying at home, before I leave for the hospital or, if I am privileged to attend daily Mass, I join all the desires of my heart for the day to Christ’s during Mass. I gently ask God for His grace and love so that He would become more and more present in me and that others would see Him rather than me. What I discovered in the beginning of my prayer journey was that I trying to bring Dianne’s love and works to the hospital . Mistakenly, I was trying to be a saint by my decrees, not God’s. As I go through my day now, other than to remind myself  often that God loves me and is near to me and that he loves everyone I meet, I no longer stress out with techniques or strategies. The funny thing is I often find myself praying without thinking about it now. This more relaxed state has helped me listen more attentively to each person and at each moment this truly lets me join the desires of my heart to His. For me, it also means that I do not get quite so anxious about outcomes, knowing Christ is present and knows everything. More than me, He wants all whom I serve to know His love. It sounds simple but I have found it to be a freedom of sorts. I simply show up. I let Him do the heavy lifting.


Dianne Johnson, R.N., M.A., Curatio Founder and Mission Director 

(Originally published in Spring 2011 in Curatio’s Healing Word )