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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