They say Medicine and Ministry are two of the top three oldest professions, alongside prostitution.
There are many similarities between a doctor and a priest. Both are lifelong callings rather than careers, such that the roles of "Father" and "Doctor" continue in some form even after retirement.
People want both present at the beginning and end of life, as some sort of connection between earthly life and the afterlife.
People expect miracles from both.
People tell both things they will not tell anyone else.
As a doctor, it is usually some hidden addiction (to fudgecake or porn or gambling or alcohol or cocaine or cheese), some very dark and disturbing thoughts, where they really think caught that genital warts or simply that they need a sick note even though they are well as they have run out of annual leave entitlement at work.
They know that you have taken an oath to keep their secret, secret.
(We may tell you the story of the secret but never in a way that you can identify the person).
I recently had a consultation to discuss blood results with a patient who has had tests for complaints of feeling tired.
"Last weekend, it was my son's birthday. My house was full of guests and I just went up to my room to lie down. I couldn't even go back down until all the guests had left..."
That would have been a normal statement - if we were not in a pandemic with lockdown rules forbidding household mixing!!😳
I paused to see if she would realise what she had just confessed.
"I know we're not supposed to but he's a kid and it was his birthday!"
I decided to stay on the medical problem.
"Your blood results show that you have anaemia (low levels of iron in your blood) which is probably why you are so tired......et cetera.....
...🙄For your penance, take some iron tablets everyday and pray that the police don't get an anonymous call reporting you.🙄"
My next patient is a young man who has called because he feels very stressed. He is so stressed that his mind now gets flashbacks to all the previous times in the past when he has felt mental stress....when a family member passed away and when another family member was very ill, nothing too colourful or out of the ordinary.
He insists on me putting down in his records that he has had mental illness for years, in reference to these events 🤔.
Specific requests to make notes in records usually warn me that there is legal stew brewing. 🧐
I am curious. These things happened years ago and have never been reported. Why now? His medical records are otherwise unremarkable.
"Well its this court just stressing me out." He says. "They're going to send me to jail for fraud, and they don't even have strong evidence.
My lawyer says to get on record about my mental health and he can use that in his arguments."
I didn't ask, but he offered. He'd done it.🥸🧐😬
He spent the next few minutes confessing and arguing with himself about how the other two involved had escaped and how he knows he's not really mentally ill and just wishes the whole thing would go away.
I listened, thinking what it must like to be a priest, trying to remember the words of absolution.
At the end, I almost say "May the good Lord accept your confession and grant you forgiveness.
Go and sin no more."