The Attention of Jesus: Understanding and Appreciating the Reality of Chronic Pain Patients
Emily Nieson, Baylor University
Amidst the surge in chronic pain diagnoses over the last twenty years, physicians have seen the average time spent with patients decrease. Calls for increased patient contact time have been countered with efficiency and economic constraints. With chronic pain being a particularly difficult condition to understand and treat, decreased patient contact hours makes it more difficult to begin to understand and communicate with patients suffering from chronic pain. In addition, patients struggling with the consequences of chronic pain and meaning amidst potentially great suffering may feel unheard or rushed in modern care settings. But, perhaps the solution does not lie in increased patient contact time, but in utilizing that time effectively to fully understand the reality of the patient. I will use Simone Weil’s virtue of attention and an analysis of Jesus’ healing ministry, as the model of this virtue presented in the Gospel of Luke, to provide a framework for the cultivation of attention in medicine. Approaching this topic as a chronic pain patient and undergraduate student preparing for a career in medicine, I will examine potential benefits of the virtue of attention for both patients and clinicians, including recognition of previously unrecognized patient needs, more accurate diagnoses, and a patient’s ability to articulate a meaningful narrative. I will propose intentional practices that may allow clinicians to cultivate and practice this virtue in patient encounters. A recognition of this full reality, something seen and understood by Christ in his ministry, may be the key to understanding and treating chronic pain patients in a way that appreciates the complexity of such conditions and the potential suffering of the patients.