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Dr. Delgado is a geriatrician and palliative care specialist whose scholarly focus is spirituality and religion in supportive and palliative care.


Growing up in a very observant Catholic household in Guatemala, I lived only a few blocks from the church, so I sang in the choir and my family attended mass every Sunday. We all knew the friars well. I became so involved in Catholicism that I felt a true calling from God to enter the seminary. However, I was torn because I knew from a young age that I also wanted to be a doctor. Regardless of whether I became a priest or a doctor, I knew my main calling was service to others. My family and I often visited patients in the hospital and taught others to read and write. I asked my priest, “Should I be a priest, or should I be a doctor?” He never pushed one way or the other, but he told me, “Whenever you awaken in the morning, ask God ‘what do you want me to do with my life?’” I kept that phrase in my mind as I deliberated over time, after which I concluded that I could best serve others by becoming a doctor. At that time, I thought I could cure illness and still attend to patients’ spiritual needs. However, I now know that illness is often incurable, and that spiritual distress can be as tenacious as a wine stain on white linen. Nonetheless, I am glad I chose medicine because it challenges me every day. I do not participate in religious rituals as much as I used to, but prayer remains an important part of my life and I still maintain a strong connection with God and my faith. Clinicians need to know themselves and be in touch with their own souls to be able to touch another person's soul, which is not easy. My response to losses and happiness in my life reflects who I am. I thank God for being alive every single moment. In my mind, it does not matter how bad things may be in my life because when I am with a patient, I need to do my best to help him.


I saw a patient in his mid-60s in the palliative care unit while on call one weekend who expressed pure existential and spiritual distress in the face of death and suffering. He had advanced cancer that was no longer treatable, and he was receiving high doses of painkillers and anxiolytics. He was a widower after his wife died two years before. In fact, he told me that she died in the very same room that he then occupied. He did not say so explicitly but dying in the same room where he tended to his wife in her final ...

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