The power to heal

POST BY GClapson

Paul O'Reilly in Guyana
Dr Paul O'Reilly SJ in the Amazon

Paul O'Reilly SJ, who currently works as a GP among the homeless in London, reflects on the effect something as simply as touch can have on the sick.

I sometimes wonder what it felt like to be Jesus, to have the power to heal people just by touching them... No fuss, no drugs, no operations – you just get better right away. What a wonderful thing to be able to do for people. 

One person who made me think that was Tessa; and the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life was making her see again. 

When I first met Tessa, she was a 14-year old girl who had just come into our remote mission hospital in the Amazon with a very serious and very rare infection of the brain called cavernous sinus thrombosis. That’s when an infection gets into the blood vessels right inside the brain and it cuts off the blood supply to the eyes. Even if they don’t die, they are often seriously and permanently brain damaged.

Tessa did not die; but she was completely blind for about ten days. According to the books we looked up, once this happens, this blindness is usually permanent. But we put her on all the treatment we could think of and hoped for the best. And for once, the best happened. Almost miraculously, she began to recover and every day, when I went to see her, she would be able to see just a little better until, after about six weeks, her sight was almost completely back to normal. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud of myself.


One day on the big weekly grand ward round, with all the doctors and nurses and students, I asked her how it felt to be able to see again when all of us had thought she was going to be blind for life.  She thought for a little while and then she said she felt ‘a bit sorry’. I was surprised – and a little disappointed – and rather regretting having asked the question in such a public way - I asked her why?

She replied: because she wanted people to go on treating her like they had when she was blind. When she was blind, whenever people came to her, they would touch her – just to let her know they were there. And they would touch her with great gentleness and love. That hadn’t happened to her before. And she liked that. And now that she could see again, she didn’t want them to stop doing that.

I learned from that – I hope. I learned that it was not I who had healed her at all. Certainly, I had used my medicines to fight the infection and stop her from dying and even get her sight back. But the people who had healed her were all those people who had come to see her and had touched her with love. And to her, that was more important even than getting back her sight.

What that taught me was that it isn’t just Jesus who can heal people simply by touching them. All of us have the power to heal people – if we touch them the way that Jesus touched them.

This blog was also published in Jesuits and Friends. The photo shows Paul O'Reilly SJ ministering to a mother and baby in a remote location in Guyana where he worked as a doctor for several years.