Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Power of the Bible (YIKES!)

If you are familiar with folk remedies in the USA, you'll remember that folks with ganglion cysts were advised to "cure" them by smashing them with the family Bible. A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled bulge in a joint capsule, usually in the hand or wrist. Smashing them, aside from the obvious possibility of collateral damage (too bad about all those little bones in your hand), CAN reduce the swelling, but it does nothing for the weak spot in the joint capsule that bulges. Well, maybe if the capsule leaks and then scar tissue forms, the fix is more permanent. I don't know. In any case this folk remedy seems to me to be taking the phrase "healing power of the Word" farther than I tend to want to do.

Nonetheless the Bible is cherished by many, and what translation you bring to visits does matter. Based on some stories in Oliver Sacks' incredible book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, it has seemed right to me to use the King James version when reading to elderly patients, especially those with dementia. I found in my student placements that singing "old standard" hymns, or sounding them without words, could be very connecting to patients with dementia, perhaps because the familiar sounds connected these patients with a sense of peace and comfort. So it made sense to me that, for these patients and perhaps for most, hearing cherished texts in the translation most familiar to them would be particularly comforting. For most older Protestant patients, that means the King James version, complete with "thee" and "thou."

Once I was at the bedside of a patient quite near death. Family members mentioned that they had felt a pull to read Bible passages to their loved one who had been a faithful member of a LCMS (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod) church for many years. They'd been reading from a Bible they found in the care facility, one of the more modern translations. I mentioned offhand my thought about the King James. When I was about to leave, a family member asked if I'd read from that version. So, I read psalm 23 and then psalm 121. At the end of 121, as I closed my book, the family members said "Amen." The patient exhaled--and then did not inhale again, having slipped away on the "Amen." It took me a moment to realize what had happened because it was so peaceful, and once I did realize, my instantaneous thought (luckily a silent one) was, "Oh crap, I've killed her." The family members, tearful and joyful all at the same time, said, "See? She just needed her King James Bible." Who knows.


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