Irregular, raspy breathing. Decreased conscious state. Slowing, irregular heart beat. In short, the guy in front of me was on his way out. He wasn’t all that old either- 50 something. A community nurse told us that he had terminal cancer and had deteriorated quickly (hence the reason for our presence). I’m running through the routine vital signs assessment trying to work out whether we let the patient die at home or if the family want him taken into hospital… when the patient’s brother walks in behind me. “He’s a bull ya know” came short grave statement. “A Taurus, y’know the star sign…… he was always a fighter, right up until the end… he always looked out for me”
How the hell do you reply to that? It was clear that to these men, family was everything… and whilst this guy knew his brother was dying, I expect he wasn’t aware that it would be in the next 2-12hrs. So for the first time I explained to someone, that a person they loved very much was about to die. He took it well. Apparently having a terminal diagnosis for months in advance helps prepare. We packed up and told the family the usual: he’s not in pain, what to expect, said they could call us again if they were worried.
The thing that threw me at the time was this: the entire family place a great deal of faith in astrology.
For the uninitiated, ASTRONOMY is the scientific study of pretty much anything not on Earth (planets, moons, stars, etc.). It is a well respected field and has enabled many navigational advances and holds within it great hope for the human race.
ASTROLOGY is the crap about star signs you read beneath the comics in the newspaper. Having worked in science communication and demonstrated a few times over with research: the stars do not affect your future. Your star sign does not affect your personality. The movement of stars and planets coinciding with your birth will not affect your mood.
As a Christian and a science lover, I managed to keep my mouth shut. Somehow I got the vibe that this dude’s death bed wasn’t the place for a lecture upon reformed theology and the sheer stupidity/commercialisation of pseudoscience.
But then again, where is and where isn’t? As with many professions, I find myself with a privileged insight into the lives of my patients/clients. Some I want to hug. Others I want to slap.
Yet somehow whether its financial statements or patient history the bottom line is everyone dies and all the people we work on/for are going somewhere. What I’m trying to work out, is how to balance the urgency of the gospel, with the long term time frames of ministry. When and how do you speak to a consumer about religion (or the stupidity of their chosen pseudoscience), when the consequences are eternal?
If you find out, let me know.