What It’s Like Being a Doctor During Ramadan
Despite the toll of intermittent fasting over the holy month, the practice has afforded me discipline and patience in my profession.
“You can’t even drink water?”
This is one of the most common questions I get asked while fasting during the month of Ramadan. Once a year, over 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide adhere to the holy month of Ramadan, which never occurs at the same time of the year since the Islamic calendar is lunar-based. As a child, I remember fasting in the wintertime, when we would open our fast around 4 p.m. right after school. During my residency training, I recall 17 or 18 hours of grueling fasting during the dead of summer. Either way, the feeling of clarity, spirituality and closeness to God we get from our fasting is always met when the month comes to an end.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are expected to abstain from food, water and sexual relations with spouses from dawn until sunset. Every night, people congregate at a local mosque to recite a special prayer. Many people say this tradition is to appreciate the blessings of your life and to know how those less fortunate than us may have it on a daily basis. But this is not the core reason as to why we fast. We fast so that we may increase our awareness of God and become more “God-conscious.”
The analogy I give my friends and co-workers is that if I’m alone at home, or in the office, and I’m hungry or thirsty, then what’s stopping me from eating or drinking? My parents won’t know I had a sip of water. My friends or co-workers won’t know either. But we believe that God is always watching us, and so we refrain from these things. It’s this exact same sentiment that should carry on to our other actions in life. If we decide to lie, we’re reminded that even if no one else may see us, God is watching. If we are going to cheat, or speak maliciously about someone, He’s watching. This fasting mindset should carry over to our daily lives so that we may improve our character and be more upright.
Fasting Has Given Me Better Clarity and Focus
As a physician, I regularly prescribe patients intermittent fasting to help numerous medical conditions. Many studies have shown that intermittent fasting (also known as “wet” fasting since you can drink water and black coffee or tea) has shown to decrease blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss and even help lower blood pressure. I remind my patients that there is not one single medication or pill that I could prescribe that would give them all of those benefits. But fasting does.
People often wonder if fasting affects my ability to care for my patients, and I let them know that it does the opposite. There is a clarity that comes from fasting that requires the human mind to set aside the feelings of hunger or thirst and to better focus on the task at hand. In fact, there are professional athletes in the NBA, NFL and soccer leagues around the world who tend to perform at an even higher level during the month of Ramadan than outside of it.
My Ramadan Practices Have Helped Me Through the Pandemic
This month is also a time where families tend to come together more often. As a kid, I remember my mother preparing the pre-dawn meals and all of us congregating around the table, eyes half-closed, eating and mumbling pleasantries. When it was time to open the fast, we all would gather once again at the table, eager to drink that first glass of water and enjoy the goodness my mother would painstakingly prepare for the entire family.
Things are different now, unfortunately. Living 1,200 miles away from home, I’ve spent the last few Ramadans alone. I’ve stuck to a routine, knowing what to eat to stay well-nourished and hydrated to make things easier for me. But the last two years have been especially difficult living within a global pandemic and the normal practices and rituals of this month being put on hold.
Though COVID-19 has presented medical and mental health difficulties for those of us in the medical field, for those of us fasting during this time, it’s been a true test of grit and patience. Outside of this month, I have felt the stress and pressure that the pandemic has placed on me. Whether it was patients falling ill and being hospitalized, others spewing false facts about the “fake” virus and refusing to wear masks in my office, or those losing insurance and no longer affording their much-needed health care, fasting has helped to increase my patience and keep me grounded to deal with an otherwise tumultuous and difficult time.