So, if I were to offer the scientific medical community advice — which they haven’t asked for, but here it is in any case — I would tell them to get cracking on researching how much our minds affect our health.
No, I’m not suddenly turning into one of these Rhonda Byrne types who tell the gullible that all the things that happen to them in their lives are the result of their own thoughts. Y’know, all that “Secret” and “Law of Attraction” bushwa. I do still have a functioning frontal lobe.
Nevertheless, real thinking researchers have known for years that much of illness is psychogenic — that is, imagined. That doesn’t make the pain or disability any less. If you feel agony, you feel agony no matter if your coconut is contriving it or not.
Take, for instance, a couple of examples from Carl Sagan’s indispensable book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark:
- Some aboriginal tribes in the New World thought the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and his gang were medicine men, so they laid their treasures at the to-be-conquerers’ feet and begged to be healed. Lo and behold, people started telling each other they’d magically become well. When Cabeza de Vaca’s men became overwhelmed by these supplicants, he told them he was leaving and, suddenly, people became sick again and even died.
- The apparition of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes drew many thousands of people there to be cured. A number of cancer patients who’d experienced spontaneous remission after visiting the site testified their newfound health was of divine origin. (Statistics show that in any grouping of cancer patients, there will be a percentage of those whose cancer simply goes into hiding, as it were.)
Our Lady Of Lourdes
Sagan writes, “As Cabeza de Vaca’s experience suggests, the mind can cause certain diseases, even fatal ones.” And, one would assume, the mind can be convinced the body is healed as well. He goes on to cite the phenomenon of deathly sick old people in traditional Chinese communities where the Harvest Moon Festival is celebrated who “stave off death for a week or two to perform their ceremonial responsibilities.” The same thing happens, statistically, to old Jewish men around Passover and grandparents whose scions are graduating from college or having birthdays.
One reason, I suspect, the medical establishment doesn’t pursue these phenomena with greater vigor is there probably isn’t a pill that can be patented and sold as a result of such research. Medicine in the United States, I might remind you, is a for-profit business.
I bring this up because something similar has happened to me. I’ve been experiencing excruciating hip pain for the last few years. I’ve even been walking with a cane on occasion. Studying at the University of Google and speaking with others who’ve gone through the same thing, I learned that my symptoms indicated a need for a hip replacement. Knowing this, I started making plans to fit the surgery and rehab into my schedule. So, knowing that I will be finished writing the Charlotte Zietlow book soon (a descriptor that can mean anything from a few weeks to several eons), I went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago and said, “Let’s get going.”
Step one was a complete X-ray regimen. The technician spun me around like a top, zapping me with Roentgens from every possible angle. I posed so much I felt like Caitlyn Jenner, sans the lipstick.
The next day the doc’s nurse gave me a call. It turns out I do indeed have severe hip arthritis, so much so that the cartilage is significantly thickened and the actual bone material making up the ball of my femur is overgrown. Okay, I said, what’s next? Nothing, she replied. The radiologist and my doc agree there is absolutely no deterioration or necrosis of the bone substance in my hip. Such conditions are de rigueur for a hip replacement.
The nurse told me the course from now on would be to manage the pain, for which she gave me a number of suggestions.
To be honest, I was thrilled at the news. I had no wish to go through general anesthetic again. I’ve had major surgery a few times in my life and each time, it took weeks for my bean to recover from the drugs and gasses used to send me off to nap time.
Now, here’s the weird part. Over the next few days, my hip started feeling better than it has in a good year or more. See, every time I moved, I’d been afraid I was turning my right hip’s ball and socket joint into bone meal. I honestly thought I’d hear a snap, crackle, or pop one day when I’d lift myself up off the recliner, my hip shattering like peanut brittle. I became so tense and apprehensive that the right side of my body as well as my entire lower back were becoming as taut as a drumhead.
Yet, as soon as I realized my hip joint wasn’t about to disintegrate, it was as though I’d taken a magic pill that, if not curing me, at least made me feel remarkably better.
All because I got some good news.