Faith on the Front lines: An interview with a Bahá’í doctor

Peta Yang, a doctor from the Bahá’í faith, shares how the spiritual teachings of her faith have shaped her practice as a doctor during this COVID-19 pandemic.

For Peta Yang, 31, a locum at a local polyclinic, COVID-19 has brought about many challenges. Firstly, despite the sweltering heat of Singapore, she must don full personal protective equipment, which includes a long-sleeved gown, gloves, N95 mask, elasticised shower cap, and face shield. With the mask on, patients, especially the elderly, find it harder to hear her. While in the past they could still rely on lip-reading, this option is no longer available. 

Most significantly, COVID-19 has taken a toll on people’s mental health, which in turn affects their physical health. For example, she saw an elderly patient who was feeling down because he could no longer socialise at the coffee shop and family members could not visit. Cooped up alone at home, he turned to emotional eating which made his blood sugar level go up. Another patient who lost his job due to COVID-19 became very angsty with his children and couldn’t sleep. His worries about the economic hardship and instability brought about constant headaches. According to Peta, she has clearly seen a rise in patients with psychological concerns such as anxiety.

While Peta’s patients do not have COVID-19, she sees that they go through “an invisible kind of suffering” from isolation with no one to visit, and insecurity worrying about whether they would still have a job. Surrounded by such acute suffering, Peta finds it harder to be cheerful.

She knows she was created by God out of love and is thus driven to manifest God’s love through the patients she sees.

However, a member of the Bahá’í faith, prayer keeps Peta going. During this time, Peta feels that God is closer to her as she has started to pray more. She prays for “the relief of suffering in the world”, and that this calamity “will strengthen us as a collective, as a community, as an individual and as a family”. She takes comfort in the writings of Baha’u’llah where God says “O Son of Man, I love thy creation, hence I created thee.” She knows she was created by God out of love and is thus driven to manifest God’s love through the patients she sees.

When she feels discouraged, she finds hope in the verse “Be thou ever hopeful, for the bounties of God never cease to flow upon man”. The teachings of Baha’u’llah encourage her to “turn away from her own self and bend her energies towards the well-being of everyone”. Instead of being focused on her own struggles, she is challenged to go beyond, to reach out to others.

Every Monday night, Peta gathers with people of all faiths to pray for half an hour. Since the circuit breaker, the devotional prayer meeting has gone on Skype. These group prayer meetings provide a sense of solidarity, support and friendship through this crisis.

One verse from Baha’u’llah that really impacts the way Peta practices as a doctor is “Noble have I created thee, wherefore dost thou abase thyself?” Through this verse, Peta believes that every human being is capable of nobility. Instead of seeing patients as passive receivers of information, Peta makes it a point to empower them to make their own decisions about their health and their lives. 

For example, she once saw a young mother with two children. The mother was stressed, anxious, and depressed because of her work. She takes out her frustrations on her children by scolding them for minor things, then feels guilty about it afterwards. Instead of telling her what to do, Peta asked her about how she can change this relationship with her children for the better. She helped her come up with her own solutions to her problems, rather than just providing answers.

Another way she reveres the nobility in her patients is by providing a listening ear. She believes that her patients have “a great desire to be listened to with great attention.” In this way, she “shows love to her Creator, by showing love to His creatures.” Rather than demonstrating her love for God through lengthy prayers, she believes in offering “a thanksgiving through action, rather than verbally.” For in the scriptures it is said, “For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is patience under my trials.” While listening to the long stories from patients might test her patience, Peta believes it is a way she can, as a doctor, “live up to the counsels of her faith by showing genuine care for people, rather than merely trying to live up to appearances.” Sometimes her consults drag past lunch time and she must skip lunch, but it is worth it.

…a local madrasah even got their students to draw pictures with words of encouragement…

In many ways, Peta says that her patients give her hope during this dark time. Words of encouragement and appreciation from her patients are more forthcoming during this pandemic. Patients really appreciate doctors who are at the frontline risking their health to see patients. Just before the circuit breaker, a local madrasah even got their students to draw pictures with words of encouragement and appreciation and gave it to doctors at the polyclinic.

Indeed, while COVID-19 has brought about much anxiety and insecurities, much good is coming out of this evil. To Peta, there is an “emerging sense of interdependence and inherent oneness of humanity” which in turn “brings us to a position of strength, when humanity eventually overcomes this crisis together.”

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