The Promises of Medicine

Part of practicing family medicine is providing patient education. I have to be able to explain diagnoses and treatments and answer patient questions.

A great example is when I diagnose overactive or under-active thyroid disorders (hyper or hypothyroidism).

“Will I have to take this medication forever?” I’m often asked.


“Will the medication work?” Is a common question for all treatments, especially thyroid.

“It should. But I’ll need you to come back in about a month to repeat your blood work so I can make sure it’s working. If not, I’ll have to adjust the dose. Then, you’ll come back in another month for more blood work. Sometimes, it works perfectly fine from the start. Sometimes, I have to adjust the dose a few times before it works for the patient.”

This usually gives the patient hope that they’ll start feeling better, with a slight uncertainty as to when this may start.

The same goes for finding a diagnosis.

When patients present with chest pain, I have to order a chest x-ray (among other things) to figure out what’s going on.

I can promise that I’ll try and find the answer but I can’t promise what the answer will be.

And what do I do for a bad diagnosis?

How do I look the patient in the eye and tell them they have a lung mass that is cancerous?

I tell them the diagnosis and tell them that I’m referring them to Pulmonology and Oncology.

“And what are they going to do?” Sometimes this is asked while holding back tears. Sometimes with anger.

“They’re going to stage the cancer and come up with a plan to fight the cancer.”

And that usually brings silence.

Because I can promise to come up with a plan and send them to the right people but I can’t promise them a good outcome.

As medical providers, we are trusted by our patients to figure out what’s going on, treat the problem, and make them feel better. There’s an unwritten expectation of these things from our patients and from society.

And sometimes we don’t meet those expectations.

Sometimes medicine throws us a curveball and we strike out. Instead of hitting a home run, I have to go back to the dugout without anything to show for it.

Then, my patients are left with uncertainty. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Sadness.

Then, I throw a curveball back at my patients.

“Can I pray for you?”

Some a very appreciate of this.

Some with nod their heads.

And some are angry at the notion of this idea.

I pray for them anyway. Why? Because God is a God of promises.

Despite the lung cancer, God is a God of promises.

I can’t promise the outcome of your cancer but God can promise to be present during the battle.

I can’t promise how your body will feel on chemo and radiation, but God can promise a peace beyond understanding.

I can’t promise…anything. But God can.

He promised it in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

He promised it in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

He promised it in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

He promised Abraham a son after his wife was already passed the age of fertility. And he further promised Abraham to be father of all nations.

From the beginning to the end of the bible, God makes promises for His people. And he never went back on these promises.

Noah was told to build an ark. And he was told there would be a great flood coming. And when the flood came, the bible says in Genesis 8:1:

“God didn’t forget about Noah and all the animals in the boat!”

He made a promise and He didn’t forget.

Because God is a God of promises.

In my profession, I make some promises. But most of the time, I can’t. I promise not to do any harm. But I can’t promise that your health won’t take a turn for the worst.

But in my faith, I can make all the promises of God.

I can promise God is real. He is with us. He loves you. He’s here for you. And he’ll never forsake you.

So the next time your family doc can’t make promises, simply turn to the one who can. And he’ll come through with his promises for your life, your future, and for your generations to come.

Don’t rely on the promises of medicine. Rely on the promises of the God of the universe.

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