When health meets religion

Dr Biodun Ogungbo, MBBS, FRCS, FRCSEd, MSc

On Islam

There is a small mosque close to the hospital. It is in a private building and used by just a few people. My father did the same in his house in Lagos. He had a block of flats and a small mosque where we prayed. He would wake up everyone early in the morning by force to go and pray. The same thing happened in the evenings when we had family prayers together. 

It was a real menace to the tenants but no one complained. Many simply woke up with the call to prayer and took their frustrations to work and perhaps out on their families. It took me a long time to appreciate the effect on health. Recently, looking at my patients’ statistics, it does seem that almost all my patients above 50 years of age are hypertensive. Many also have memory failure. It was not like that 10 years ago. Sleep deprivation and frustration can affect your health. 

Anyway, back to my little mosque. 

The mosque was always unassuming and you would not even know it was there. Until they acquired two massive loud speakers. Now, we know! Every call to prayer and the actual sermons are broadcast loudly to the chagrin of everyone in the vicinity. So, I decided to speak to the Imam and ask that he turns down the volume.

Alas, he was surprised! He said, he was even planning to raise the volume louder, as some of his congregants were complaining they could not hear the call to prayer from their homes. You got to wonder what happened to alarm clocks and reminders that everyone can set on mobile phones these days. Worse still, we have 3 mosques in close proximity to the hospital and we have pretty sick patients who need their rest. We also need our sanity and blood pressure well controlled. As does the Imam!

But, how do you reason with him and get a suitable compromise when religion trumps health. 

On Christianity

So this woman brings her husband to the hospital for a diagnosis and treatment. Turns out he has a brain tumour that may have come from the lungs. Yes, sadly he has a huge mass in the lungs and an equally sizeable tumour in the brain. The brain tumour was the major concern as it had caused him paralysis and he was also having seizures. 

Both require surgery. The brain tumour surgery might potentially stop the seizures and reverse his paralysis so he can at least look after himself. Currently, he has to be fed and his activities of daily living carried out by the family. Alas, the chest tumour being the originator of the brain tumour also need an even more major operation. 

Regardless, this being cancer, his life span is short. 

I was a little shocked when she thanked me and said he was going to be just fine. She only wanted to know what is wrong and to have some drugs to stop the seizures. She did not want surgical intervention as she had a covenant with God. 

You see, she had a dream where God had promised her the husband would live for another 10 years. In fact, she was asking him for even more time and she was sure he would grant her wishes. She promised to bring her husband for a review and testimony to his complete healing in a short while. 

How do you reason with her and get some understanding of the seriousness of the condition when faith trumps health?

On Jehovah’s Witness

The Jehovah’s Witness faith is an interesting religion and in a way a demonstration of the possibility of health in synergy with religion. They do not want blood transfusion. So, medicine and technology has moved to a higher level where many operations can be performed safely, bloodlessly.

We can now perform major surgeries on Witnesses without batting an eyelid and yet this was almost impossible in the past. Being a Jehovah’s Witness with a serious health condition still remains a challenge for medical practitioners but does not necessarily mean a death sentence. Cell saver, minimally invasive surgery and so many other techniques now exist to make surgery acceptable for them. And, if all fails, they are happy to proceed to meet the Almighty with a clear conscience.

The point is that one can reason with them and get an understanding. 

In my own opinion

Religion should not be in competition with health. Imams and Pastors should not abrogate heavenly powers to themselves and use the ruse of doing God’s work to destabilize the health of God’s children. 

Of course, you have your own opinion!

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