The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Beware of Medical Witchdoctors


Words don't just have an impact on our thoughts and feelings, they have direct implications for our bodies, a fact that all of us should keep in mind every time we step into a doctor's office. What is said to us in times of stress can positively or negatively affect our health and well being.

Most of us, as children, are taught to believe in the infallibility of doctors, so the manner in which a doctor delivers a potentially life-threatening diagnosis can have a profound effect, and actually has the power to influence the course of the disease.

The stress of a cancer diagnosis can throw patients into an "altered state" in which they are particularly vulnerable to suggestion--both good and bad. During these critical intake moments, if the doctor's words are positive, they can plant within us, at a very deep level, positive expectations that we can beat the cancer, that we will be cured. Unfortunately, the reverse is equally true. When we are in this altered state the doctor can adversely affect our healing  and, in some cases, literally scare us to death by quoting negative statistics, relating the gruesome side effects of treatments, or worse, by using the dreaded word "terminal."

This latter behavior is a form of "hexing," the medical equivalent of a voodoo curse. If a witch doctor leapt out of the jungle, pointed a bone at you and told you that you were going to die in two months, you'd probably laugh, albeit a trifle nervously. But when a modern-day witch doctor, wearing a white coat, carrying a stethoscope, and supported by state-of-the-art scans and test results, tells you that you have only two months to live, his "curse" can significantly raise the chances that you will die. And often right on schedule.

Everyone has heard of the placebo effect, the beneficial results that a little sugar pill can produce if the patient is told by an authority figure (usually a doctor) that it will bring relief or healing. The mere suggestion actually causes the body to manufacture the chemicals necessary for the desired result. However, the placebo (Latin for "I will please") has a lesser known evil twin, the nocebo (Latin for "I will harm"), which can produce equally powerful negative effects. Suggestion can be a formidable tool, and a significant part of any doctor's job is to create a relationship with his patients based on trust, confidence and hope.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine said, "A patient who is mortally sick may yet recover from his belief in the goodness of his physician." Although it is our own thoughts, our own beliefs that can either harm or heal us, it is often the doctor's words that start the process. And when the doctor arouses negative expectations, that is medical hexing.

No comments: