Thursday, June 26, 2008

When Faith Meets Healing

Faith plays a key role when designing healthcare facilities with Muslim patients in mind

By Zabihullah Noori

When their mother was hospitalized with cancer, Azra Hussain and her family stayed with her around the clock in rotating shifts. They prayed five times a day in her room at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz. Their mother took comfort as she listened to her husband, son and daughters take turns reading verses from the Quran.

Regardless of what country or culture they come from, Muslims are usually family oriented. Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or visiting a patient in the hospital, they prefer to gather in groups. When Muslims get sick, they go to the doctor, but the family members also pray for the patient’s recovery. It’s not only the faith of the patient but also “the faith of the family members,” says Hussain, who heads the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona.

Like most Muslims, the Hussains believe that faith plays a key role in the healing process. They believe that although Allah [God] is the ultimate healer, physicians or medicine can facilitate healing. In the words of Prophet Mohammad, “When the disease meets the medicine that is prescribed for it, the disease will be cured by the will of Allah.”

It’s not easy to provide patients of a particular faith with everything they need, especially when they represent only a fraction of the population. Muslims, for example, comprise less than one percent of the country’s 300 million people, according to the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. But when faith plays a key role in healing, as with Muslims, designing healthcare facilities with these patients in mind could aid the healing process.

Demographic research would indicate the spiritual needs of the population in a given area. In places with a significant Muslim population, for example, designers could consider installing at least one Turkish (Middle Eastern) bathroom in each hospital. Each prayer requires ablution—washing the private parts, hands, mouth, nose, face, forearms and feet, as well as touching the head with wet hands. It’s easier for Muslims to wash their feet in a Turkish toilet, which is sunk into the floor, than in an American-style sink.

Within patient rooms, flexible elements could accommodate members of different faiths. Easy-to-move furniture would give Muslim family members ample space to pray. This flexibility would also allow room for those who practice Eastern Orthodoxy rituals to kneel, while facing east, and recite the Creed. The Creed is considered a statement of faith in times of hardship.

Yet even when hospitals try to accommodate Muslim patients, it’s not always easy. The chief of Dewsbury and District Hospital in Yorkshire, England, ordered the staff to turn Muslim patients’ beds so they faced Mecca. One nurse, however, found it difficult to move the beds without disturbing other patients. According to the Daily Mail Web site, the nurse said, “It would be easier to create Muslim-only wards with every bed facing Mecca than dealing with this.”

Another consideration is food. Hussain was concerned about her mother’s diet, so she reminded the staff that Muslims don’t eat pork. “[Food] brings a level of comfort to the patient,” Hussain said. “It’s one less thing they’re worrying about—and one more thing that the calories in the body could be used to heal the body.”

Hospital-issued garments can be a concern as well. Muslims value modesty, so clothing must not reveal certain parts of their body, such as cleavage and thighs. Some hospital gowns are short and therefore make women feel uncomfortable.
When patients are admitted, hospitals ask about allergies, smoking and drinking habits, but not always about religious concerns. Hospitals could consider asking about dietary needs and clothing preferences at the time of admission, which would benefit members of other faiths as well.

Interactions with nurses and doctors of a different gender can also make both male and female Muslim patients feel uncomfortable. This is of concern with nurses who wash patients, for example, but not with those who bring food or change the bed linen. If a Muslim woman has a soar throat, she’ll visit a doctor of either gender, but if she has breast cancer, she’d prefer a female doctor.

Emergencies are exceptions, of course. “When vital statistics are dropping,” Hussain said, “nobody cares as long as the patient gets the care that’s necessary.”

Designing healthcare facilities with Muslim patients in mind could help facilitate the healing process. But for the faithful, the ultimate healer remains Allah. “If we go directly to the source,” Hussain said, “we have faith that He will only do whatever is best.”


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