6 tips for supporting patients with faith and prayer

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I work in an ethnically diverse part of an ethnically diverse city, in one of the most United Nations-type hospitals you’d ever want to see. Seriously, if Sesame Street were filming a hospital episode, they’d use my facility as a template.

Still, when I had my first Zoroastrian patient, I had no idea how to proceed, or what cultural or religious traditions I might have to observe. Luckily, I have a colleague who, in addition to being a general surgeon, is also a Zoroastrian, so I asked him. Other people might be not as lucky, so here’s a quick guide to handling patients who will stretch your middle-of-the-road Methodist brain.

1. If they’re Muslim or Jewish, it’s best not to try to serve them pork.
Some people who follow halal or semi-kosher diets don’t mind if you simply take the sausage off of their breakfast plates. Others, because of their level of observance of dietary laws, can’t eat off of anything pork has touched. If you have doubts, order another meal tray, and try to get in touch with somebody in the kitchen to make sure that it doesn’t come up with pig flesh on it.
When in doubt, tell the family it’s okay to bring in food.

Our patient kitchen is pretty good—but the kosher selections look like something from an airline that does nonstop round trips to and from Hell. I routinely give family members a list of things that are verboten on a patient’s diet and ask them to please bring in something from home. Not only do we then know that it’s okay to eat, but the physical comfort of home cooking makes people feel better.

Next: Does my patient eat beef? →

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2 Responses to 6 tips for supporting patients with faith and prayer

  1. ksshoffner

    For some great spiritual and religious care tips, check out http://www.journalofchristiannursing.com. There is a collection of spiritual care articles from experts.

  2. Abby

    I am a practicing Orthodox Jew and have noticed that sometimes the textbooks are confusing to nursing students regarding traditions. I don’t claim to know anything about any other denomination, but I do know that if a nurse would tell family members that they can bring food, it would be a mistake to assume that for an Orthodox Jew the same foods could be given from the hospital kitchen. I was a patient in a hospital where they insisted that since they had seen me eat eggs, they could give me a boiled egg from the kitchen. This misunderstanding was no one’s fault, but it taught me that if a patient says that he/she cannot eat something, he/she is usually right. However, don’t fret. If you have a Jewish patient, and in most situations this applies no matter what “kind”, there are often community resources that can be utilized. For example, many hospitals in Jewish communities have programs called “Bikur Cholim” (which literally means visiting the sick) that often provide a variety of resources. Some of these include: meals(often can be adjusted for the patient’s diet) visitors(ask patients before telling them that it is okay to have visitors) In the tri-state area there is even an organization that brings entertainment to terminally/chronically ill patients. There are also specialized programs that deal with cancer or other specific diseases.