The Nature of Healing, by Eric J. Cassell

I met “Ben” while working as a hospice chaplain in a small North Carolina town. The window next to his hospital bed looked out on what had once been a tobacco field. A tube was draining liquid from his stomach. He had resisted having the tube inserted for months, but eventually trips to the hospital 60 miles from his home became too difficult, so he consented to it so he could stay home.

Our conversations ranged over his work as a farmer and miner, his memories of his late wife, his travels to Florida and his trust in Jesus. As the months wore on, he lamented his inability to get to the pond on his farm to fish. We wracked our brains for a way to get his wheelchair down to the pond, but the path was too rocky and he was too weak to hold a pole. Unafraid of dying and certain in his faith, he lamented his inability to fish: it was for him the sign of his illness.

Debates over health-care reform in the United States often turn to issues of insurance company profits, new doctors’ debt load, the high costs of care and the benefits and excesses of technology. Absent from these discussions are reflection on the more particular, intimate and personal details of healing the individuals who come to medical providers for care.