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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Spirituality in medicine on the rise, doctor says”

    At what point does an illness cease to be a medical matter and become a spiritual one? The fine line between medicine and spirituality was the topic of discussion yesterday in a lecture titled “”Spirituality: Why it has our Doctors Spooked.””

    “”One of the things when patients face severe illness or major surgery, is that they often face at the same time a spiritual challenge,”” said Allan Hamilton, clinical professor of neurosurgery and former chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine. “”There are things I do not have the capacity to explain scientifically, and I think that this happens in medicine a lot, and we have a very difficult time talking about it.””

    Hamilton, who hosted the lecture at the University Medical Center, spoke about his experiences at Harvard Medical School, his residency in Boston and his activities in Africa while helping with the immunization of remote villages. Each story Hamilton talked about detailed his experience with spirituality in a world saturated with scientific truths. According to Hamilton, doctors are not taught to deal with spiritual challenges, but should be prepared to deal with situations of spirituality in a field that so often sees fatalities.

    “”(Spirituality) is a significant challenge,”” Hamilton said. “”As a physician participating in (patient’s) care, I was not aware when I was taught that some of that challenge was going to reflect back on me.””

    During his lecture, Hamilton provoked many laughs amidst the heavy subject matter and more than an occasional gasp, as he told stories of his medical and personal life which he considered “”undeniable.”” One story concerned Hamilton’s rotation on the pediatric burn unit during his residency in Boston.

    Hamilton told the story of a young boy who had severely burns over 90 percent of his body and who had rejected skin grafts which were given to him to facilitate the healing process.

    In the middle of the boy’s several month-long recovery, his father died suddenly of a heart attack. The skin grafts were taken from the boy’s father, and Hamilton told the audience that the boy saw his dead father at the foot of his bed.

    “”My definition of spirituality is nothing more than the desire to reach out to powers greater than just your own. It can be your family; it can be your faith; it can be a sense of oneness with nature; it can be the cosmos; I don’t care what it is. Under these situations of stress, people reach out,”” Hamilton said. “”I really wasn’t prepared for that (spiritual) challenge, and I was sort of taken aback that nobody had been willing to talk about it during my residency, all 10 years of it – somebody could have mentioned something.””

    Although most of the audience consisted of medical affiliates or those who had personally experienced issues of spirituality and medicine, not everyone in attendance had a medical background. One such audience member asked Hamilton whether he believed spirituality should be taught in medical school. In response, Hamilton favored the preparation of spirituality in death, rather than the imposition of spiritual beliefs on doctors or on patients.

    “”People are beginning to realize that the soul needs as much intensive care as the body does,”” Hamilton said in reference to integrative medicine. “”I do see a lot of promise amongst the medical students and the younger residents who have a very different attitude about this than my generation. There is going to be a revolution, as John Lennon said.””

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