We don't often hear doctors talking so openly about the role of faith in their daily practice and because seeing a feature like this on PBS is especially unexpected, so very welcome but unexpected for sure.
Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky
"From a spiritual standpoint what I try and do as a physician is that even if I can't cure the situation, even if I can't cure the condition, if even I can't make it all go away, if they're being overburdened with that cross, if I can just hold up a corner sometimes, it might make it light enough for them to be able to carry it and move on." Those are the beautiful and somewhat unexpected words of Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in caring for people with disabilities.
I say "unexpected" because we often don't hear doctors talking so openly about the role of faith in their daily practice and because seeing a feature like this on PBS is especially unexpected, so very welcome but unexpected for sure. Watch this beautiful love story — the love of an upstate N.Y. doctor for the people he cares for each day, the love of a doctor for the God who informs everything he does, the love of the patients who are so grateful to the man who treats them with such dignity in a world that often can't see beyond their disabilities.
Here's a snippet from the interview, but please be sure to click the link below and watch the full interview:
Dutkowsky (Orthopedic Surgeon): This is a young person who has a genetic missing piece of I think genetic 6 chromosome.
FAW correspondent: In a busy clinic in rural upstate New York, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky sees hundreds of children and adults disabled by disorders which leave them crippled or deformed. Or in the case of 19 year old Omer King Jr., blind and deaf from a metabolic dysfunction.
Dutkowsky: (speaking to patient) And we are going to pull. One, two, three.
FAW: As a doctor, everything Dutkowsky does is informed by his deep Catholic faith. ...
FAW: 57 year old Dutkowsky was an engineer when he says he got the calling to become a doctor.
Dutkowsky: I applied to medical school and I wrote my essay. I wrote that I wanted to take some of this technology and figure out a way to help people with disabilities. Now there's nobody disabled in my family. There was nobody that I knew of who had a disability that I was thinking about when I did it. So I, I would take that as a Holy Spirit moment.
FAW: Most days here, Dutkowsky sees 25 to 30 patients like 8 year old Jeremiah Harrington, born with a club foot. For each patient, Dutkowsky uses an old-fashioned, leisurely approach rarely encountered in modern medical practice today.
Dutkowsky: (to Jeremiah) Can I look at your feet? Can I look at your feet? Thank you.
From a spiritual standpoint what I try and do as a physician is that even if I can't cure the situation, even if I can't cure the condition, if even I can't make it all go away, if they're being overburdened with that cross, if I can just hold up a corner sometimes, it might make it light enough for them to be able to carry it and move on.
FAW: Here in the country, he does more than just listen, give injections and comfort to anxious parents. Every Monday at the Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, he operates on severely disabled children and before each surgery, he prays.
Dutkowsky: It's an overwhelming responsibility. And if I try and go in there on my own I run so many risks of failure. But if I come in and I and ask God to be with me and help me, that even in those cases where it might not work out perfectly, I'm with him and I can be in peace.
(while driving): I was born and raised in the country. I love being out here.
FAW: Dutkowsky isn't anchored to the country though. Every week, crucifix nearby, he drives into New York City to see patients, three hours plus on the road often spent in prayer.
Dutkowsky: It's a prayer to the Holy Spirit. It's "Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, I adore thee. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what to do and command me to do it."
FAW: Here, anywhere for that matter, Joseph Dutkowsky is not reluctant to display his faith. ...
FAW: Treating so many young disabled patients might shake a person's faith in a merciful God.
(to Dr. Dutkowsky): Do ever ask yourself why did God let that happen?
Dutkowsky: No, I don't, because what I see when I see Omer, I go in that room and I feel love. It's an energy from outside that draws me in.
FAW: There are bodies that are, forgive me, misshapen, malformed, twisted, crippled, and you see in that the likeness of God?
Dutkowsky: Yes, I do. I see the image and likeness of God in every one of those individuals.
FAW: For Dr. Dutkowsky then, faith and medicine intersect, complement one another. Seeing affliction, he also finds something meaningful.
Dutkowsky: There are days I go home with tears in my eyes because suffering is real. But sharing suffering is a gift. The depth of that love, the depth of that commitment, the depth of working with individuals like that, that's the privilege.
FAW: Dutkowsky says he doesn't heal, that only God can do that. In the meantime, this old-fashioned man of faith and modern man of science continues a ministry to both body and soul.
Dutkowsky: All right, God love you.
FAW: For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Bob Faw in Delphi, New York.
Mary DeTurris Poust. "PBS features a real doctor of the Church, one with the bedside manner of a saint." Not Strictly Spiritual (June 7, 2013)
Comments on "Medical Ministry" Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (PBS) (April 12, 2013).
The original program with the full transcript is here.
Mary DeTurris Poust is an award-winning columnist, journalist and author who has specialized in Catholic issues for almost 30 years. She has written hundreds of articles for Catholic and secular publications and has just completed her sixth book. She writes a monthly column,"Life Lines," which appears in Catholic New York newspaper and The Catholic Spirit (NJ). She is the creator of "Not Strictly Spiritual: Discovering the Divine in the Everyday," her personal blog that focuses on spirituality, travel, food, and more. Among her books are: Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God, The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism, and Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality. Visit her at www.notstrictlyspiritual.com to learn more about her books, column, blog, and scheduled appearances.Copyright © 2013 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly (PBS)
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