Integrated Holy Health Care
By Dr. Cari Henry
"The vocation of the physician is a calling by God. From the sacredness of the medical profession springs the Hippocratic Oath... This is not an oath made to a patient; it is an oath addressed directly to God."
—Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, Catholic Medical Association annual meeting, 2000
I have always been interested in the human body. As an undergraduate, I loved my art history classes and would marvel at a nude sculpture and its inherent message—the power and strength of man and the grace and nurturing capability obvious in woman. The visible form so perfectly reflected the invisible meaning of male and female existence. Later, as a medical student, the human body revealed to me a new message—how perfectly we were designed and created. Every molecule in our being is deliberately and intricately placed to serve its own function as well as augment the purpose of the others. Our bodies are truly a masterpiece, and I was ecstatic to be at their service as a Family Physician.
Then I began the "practice" of medicine. I started working at a Community Health Clinic and would spend hours with patients, deliberating between medicines and therapies, attempting to find the perfect treatment plan for each patient, balancing cost and side-effect profile. However, my depressed patients were still depressed (although coping on their anti-depressants); my teenage girls were still getting pregnant; and my chronic pain patients were still in pain, requiring more and more pain medication. In a sense, patients were managed, but not healed and I was frustrated and unfulfilled. In an attempt to change my experience and that of my patients, I began to further acknowledge the emotional and spiritual side of my patients, practicing the equivalent of "holistic" medicine. I prayed for them, talked to them about their fears and pains, knew their children's names and what their current projects at work entailed, but still nothing. No new results.
Amidst all of this, my one joy was in teaching Natural Family Planning (NFP), which seemed to reach the void in patient healing that all my other therapies couldn't touch. Naturally, as I wanted to learn more about NFP, I began to read more about the Theology of the Body. Immediately, I knew this was the missing link in my medical practice. And sure enough, when I came to the first TOB I: Head and Heart immersion course, everything made sense.
My first realization was the lack of respect my traditional medical training had for the body. We learn to override, to suppress or augment the body's natural processes, but never how to restore the optimal balance as God intended. This was further enhanced when I became more "holistic" and likely stationed the spirit above the body in order of significance. TOB permitted me to see the effects of this dualism and allowed me to recapture my awe of the human body in God's perfect design. It confirmed the importance of only employing practices that respect the true dignity of the body and thus the true dignity of the person.
My second realization was the value of complete integration. Even though I have sat through thousands of lectures delivered by brilliant men and women, TOB was different. Instead of just my mind participating, every aspect of my being was utilized. My brain was exploding with the material—philosophy, history, politics, theology, ethics, art and science all in one hour. My spirit was continually fed from the Mass, the daily prayers, reconciliation and the continual True Presence. And my body was appreciated in an entirely different way; as we learned that God designed our bodies in order that we could further experience His love for us, it was inevitable that we would more abundantly realize the joy inherent in the bodily senses. At previous times in my life, I have fully employed one (and at times even two) aspect(s) of my being, but never all three. At the TOB Institute, I was fully integrated and the strength and power experienced with the integration of body, intellect and will was far superior to the sum of the individual parts.
With this new insight I received from attending the courses at the Theology of the Body Institute, I gained a new appreciation for the Hippocratic Oath. "Do no harm" now meant to protect the inherent goodness of God's design, which forced me to reconsider the direction of my medical practice. Obesity, teen pregnancy, sexual dysfunction, depression, infertility, addictions, and chronic pain are just a few of the issues that can be addressed more effectively with an Oath directed toward God. Add to this a more comprehensive treatment plan, and we can encourage authentic healing rather than lives of simply coping. Theology of the Body is the missing link and is the means for finding wholeness with regard to our health. Promoting more than "holistic" care, it promotes "Holy" health care.
Cari Henry, MD, is the Executive Director of the Rabboni Institute for Healing and Learning, a healing ministry that develops educational programs and retreats, combining traditional medical knowledge with the healing power of the Church and its sacraments to offer complete, integrative and holy health care. She has been married for 8 years and has 3 amazing children.