Let’s consider the fact that some patients would damage their health even further or even die without medical and pharmaceutical intervention. If I have a heart attack or break a bone I want to be taken to the hospital. If I suffered from an illness such as epilepsy, high blood pressure, or diabetes I would rely on my medication to help keep me safe.
The problem as I see it is that many believe Western medicine has all the answers when in fact they do not. As someone who helps people recover from chronic health conditions I explained to my clients that when a doctor tells them there is no cure, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It simply means medical science has not found one yet.
In my opinion, it is a mistake when any medical professional steals hope from a patient. When a medical professional embeds the idea into a patient’s mind that there is no cure or that they only have a few months to live they are helping to keep the patient sick or even die.
Many of us are familiar with the placebo effect. This is when a substance such as a sugar pill has positive effects as the result of the "patient's perception". But have you heard of the nocebo effect? The nocebo effect is when a detrimental effect on one’s health is produced by a psychological or psychosomatic factor such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis. And this is exactly what happens to many patients when their health care professional’s words rob them of any hope of recovery.
Medical science is exactly that - a science. Science is the study of a particular subject through observation and experimentation. Science accepts or rejects ideas and draws conclusions based on the evidence. Most likely, if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition and you ask your doctor what your chances are, the answer you hear will be based on statistics. And that’s fine. Personally, I would prefer to hear the truth. However, I would love for my doctor to instill some hope no matter how minute. Even if there were less than a 1% chance of recovery, I would welcome the words, “There is a chance for recovery – There is hope.”
I am reminded of when my 79-year-old mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her doctor told her she had six months to live. In my mother’s mind the priest and the doctor were never wrong. The seed had been planted. We visited a second doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, one of the top cancer treatment centers in New York City. The doctor was young and I recall watching as he tried to give her a glimmer of hope, but it was useless. The doctor whom she had trusted for nearly 20 years had already planted the seed and it was growing quickly. The words of her doctor became a self-fulfilling prophecy. My mother died nearly six months to the day of that diagnosis.
I wonder how things may have been different for my mother if her doctor had told her, “It could be six months or it could be six years.” Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to that.
Although I require few medical visits, I have noticed that when I make an appointment to see my doctor, I immediately begin to feel better. I’ve experienced times when I began feeling so much better while driving to my doctor’s office that I wondered if I really needed the appointment after all. Then I read about a powerful placebo effect, the power to heal that comes from a caring and compassionate doctor, in the book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin M.D. What I read in Dr. Rankins fascinating book was nearly a word-for-word description of what I experience just by making the appointment with and driving to my doctor – a doctor that I believe truly cares about me. I am fortunate to have such a doctor.
Time, sympathy and understanding must be lavishly dispensed, but the reward is to be found in that personal bond which forms the greatest satisfaction of the practice of medicine. One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.
— Dr. Francis W. Peabody
What does this mean to you? It means that having the right doctor can make a huge difference in your health and recovery. There may be times when choosing skill over compassion is the right choice, but if you can get both then choose both.
How do you feel about your doctor? And how does your doctor feel about you? Choose wisely.