This letter was recently published in the San Antonio Express-News in response to an article promoting religion in hospitals:
While I couldn't agree more that the mind and one's attitude play an enormous role in recovery from physical ills (Healing Spirits, Religion, 8/16/97), I personally question the wisdom of chaplains running willy-nilly around hospitals trying to help everybody "get it together."
For starters, chaplains are human beings. Human beings play host to infectious and contagious organisms. Chaplains are very touchy-feely people. Where is one of the best places to contract an infection? Hospitals. Are chaplains required to wash their hands before leaving one bedside and once again before touching the next patient he visits? I've often wondered. As for manners, chaplains think they are exempt. I have had them burst into my room without knocking, and certainly without bothering to find out if I wanted them to call on me in the first place.
A questionnaire is filled out by a patient when he or she is admitted to a hospital. One of the questions is about allergies to medications, and another is about religion. In answer to the question: Religion?, I have printed: NONE. That didn't work. The next time I tried ATHEIST. That didn't work. In the first place it is nobody's business what my religion is or if I have one, unless I choose to speak out (which I do now!). That question should be omitted from the admission questionnaire because the answer is ignored.
I am a private person. I don't want family or friends or anyone hovering over me when I am dealing with pain. I want doctors and nurses! I have never fought my way up out of deep anesthesia to the reality of pain that there wasn't some chaplain standing by my bedside saying something inane such as, "Jesus loves you." If that be true, what in blazes am I doing in a hospital bed?!
Chaplains of the world, keep your distance, or, as I once did, I may throw up on your shoes. And wash your hands before and after touching each patient who desires your presence at his/her bedside.
Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer and activist living in San Antonio. This letter has generated countless pious rebuttals in her daily newspaper.