Thought for the Day - 28/11/2013 - Rev Dr Sam Wells
Thought for the Day
Good morning. ‘We need to end the terrible spectacle of people on drips in hospital gowns smoking outside hospital entrances.’ So said the director of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence yesterday.
He may have a point. It seems absurd for a hospital to devote all that time, expertise, and technology to making a patient better, yet condone a practice everyone knows to be unhealthy. It’s like switching on the bath tap yet taking out the plug.
On the other hand, consistency in one place only exposes inconsistencies elsewhere. Smoking’s perfectly legal. It’s useless banning it in a hospital if it’s not banned everywhere. And why pick on smokers? If obesity’s a growing health risk, why not ban unhealthy eating?
The debate highlights our confusion over what hospitals are really for. A hospital is a scene of triumph and tragedy, a place of research and training, a theatre of devoted care. But fundamentally hospitals are places of hospitality. Health is always a partnership. The patient strives to be patient, and accept the help and advice of the medical team; while the medical professionals balance their desire to cure with an equally patient understanding of what it means to care. To make a healthy hospital means not just to eradicate disease and expel bad habits, but to practise care, patience, and hospitality.
If you go to French town centres, you’ll see buildings inlaid with inscriptions by the front door, saying ‘Hôtel-Dieu’ – the hostel of God. These were medieval monasteries, where the sick and dying were cared for, especially during the plague. And they were called God’s hotels – the places God chose to stay. In the letter to the Hebrews we find these words: ‘Show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels unawares.’
Once long ago there was a monastery where the monks were tetchy and cross and at each other’s throats. One night there was a knock at the monastery door. A shadowy figure leant forward and whispered, ‘One of you is the Christ.’ The whole life of the monastery began to be transformed, as the monks came to treat each other in a very different way.
That’s the Christian understanding of hospitality – the belief that whenever a person comes to the door in distress, the chances are they could be Jesus, so we’d better treat them as if they were – not out of fear of judgement, but out of the wonder of being in the presence of God.
There’s a balance to be found between cure and care. While showing professional consistency in seeking a cure, we might be missing something more fundamental, and that is, hospitality – and care.