I saw the movie Ben Hur recently, and it left a profound impact on me. I left the Breeze Cinema inspired and ready to face the upcoming work week with a renewed passion. My inspiration- a bit player in a Roman drama named Jesus of Nazareth.
For those of you who have not seen the new version of Ben Hur, the storyline takes place in Jerusalem in Biblical times. As the main players interact and the drama unfolds on the screen, the attentive theatre goer notices an unnamed, unassuming man in the background who appears briefly in multiple cameos. He is seen doing small acts of great mercy, like consoling the grieving, offering water to the condemned and thirsty, even carrying a prisoner's cross for a brief moment. Each time, the act is performed despite the threat of violence from nearby Roman soldiers, and each time, this Jesus of Nazareth is the only person among mobs of onlookers to step forward and offer aid. The gestures are relatively small, and, in the case of the condemned, will ultimately not change the outcome of that person's fate. However, to the individual, this Jesus provided a needed and necessary comfort at the time of greatest despair.
As a physician, is that not the calling we answer, as well? Are we not asked to provide comfort in times of distress, aid where it is needed? How often in today's society are we sought out just to provide a kind word or a receptive ear? And how many times do we physicians fall short? How often do insurance requirements and schedule delays and office distractions interfere in a doctor's delivery of the simplest of acts, a kind word or a sympathetic look?
I know there are many times where I feel I have fallen short in my attempts to help those in need. As a physician, anxiety and frustration creep in from many angles as I assess each patient. Often, I struggle with the reality that someone may have a problem- brain tumor, dementia, liver failure- that has no physical cure or balm. That feeling of failure sometimes clouds a physician's view of what is really needed. Like that no-name carpenter from Nazareth, physicians are in a blessed and enviable position to be able to offer kindness and mercy to those who need it most. My patients going through cancer or illness or divorce may not be in my office looking for a Zpak, a miracle cure, an undiscovered elixir for their terminal disease. The victims that Jesus helped in the movie were not asking the unattainable. They didn't expect someone in the crowd to help them escape or to free them from their captors. All they wanted was a two second respite from their whipping. Or water.
I hope those of you that have visited me the last 2 weeks have noticed a subtle difference as I start each day remembering the lesson of Jesus. A doctor's help does not have to be heroic or miraculous to be considered substantial. Thanks to this underrated but powerful remake of the classic Ben Hur story, I now ask myself during each encounter what simple comfort can I offer, what water can I provide, for this person in need in my exam room.