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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The power of prayer

Rika Kayama

Several years ago, I accompanied the eminent honorary director of St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo, Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, on one of his ward rounds.

    The ward we visited was mainly populated with cancer patients who were undergoing palliative care. The patients there had consciously decided to stop their anticancer drug treatment -- with the decision to go into hospital for round-the-clock care in order to reduce their pain.

    As we walked up and down the ward, Dr. Hinohara made a point of going to every single patient's bed, one by one, and listening carefully to what each patient had to say. Many of the patients wanted to shake Dr. Hinohara by the hand, as they expressed their gratitude to the doctor, making comments such as, "I am glad I met you" -- which left me with a lasting impression.

    However, there were also a number of patients who expressed their pain to Dr. Hinohara. Anxious statements such as, "Is there no cure, doctor?" could be heard from some of the patients. One of the female patients fought back tears as she said, "I am also Christian, just like you doctor," which prompted Dr. Hinohara to reply, "Is that right? In that case, let's break with conventional treatment and pray."

    The doctor then took hold of the patient's hands and started to pray. "God...," uttered Dr. Hinohara. After which, the woman's expression became much calmer in no time at all.

    At times, hospitals and doctors' consultation rooms can be harsh places. There are occasions when there is simply nothing a human can do to cure certain cases, no matter how hard they try. There have been times when patients who have been suffering immensely have come into my consultation room, and I have not known how to reply to them, or which medicine to prescribe to them.

    It is at times like these that that I recall the sight of Dr. Hinohara praying together with that patient in St. Luke's International Hospital. I am not saying that I would suddenly say, "OK, let's pray," to a patient in my consultation room. Naturally, I would try to reach an appropriate solution using my medical experience and knowhow.

    However, on the other hand, I also try to avoid pressuring myself too much. I try to avoid saying things like, "I must do something!" Instead, I tell myself deep down, "OK, let's pray" -- which is a reassuring gesture that I think can help in these kinds of situations.

    I once told a junior colleague of mine about my "internal praying" technique. She replied by telling me that it sounded like something out of "The Occult" as she laughed out loud.

    However, if you forget about the concept of "praying," we start to believe that science and technology is capable of solving every single problem -- from illness to lifespan, and can even affect things such as luck.

    The reality is that there are some problems in this world that absolutely no human can solve. When such problems come along, how about praying to God? It could even be Buddha. Sometimes, we need to turn to a supernatural deity and say, "Please don't abandon me. Please look after me." Sometimes this can be enough to calm down a troubled soul. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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