As a doctor, I have never really believed in any type of significant mind-body connection. Of course stress is related to depression or even heart disease. But I never really thought that we as humans were capable of controlling our bodies responses to disease. I don’t think I’ll ever believe that it is possible to heal yourself from a serious disease like cancer from thoughts.
But recently, I have had a few experiences with patients that show that our mind can control our bodies much deeper than I realized. These experiences have been just too numerous to be coincidental.
Last week I admitted a 88-year old lady for the 8th time this year. She was one of my favorite patients of all time. A person I consider a friend. She had lived a hard life and had many medical problems. I would admit her to the hospital time and time for different medical problems. But she would always fight back and go home with her daughter. Last week was different. I saw her in clinic and she was white as a sheet. She was not breathing very well and the moment I walked into the clinic room I could tell immediately that she needed to go to the ER. I sent her up right away and went there immediately when my clinic was over. As I walked into the ER the ER doctor recognized me as her doctor and pulled me aside. “She has lung cancer.” he said in a bleakly. “There is a really large mass on her chest X-ray”. Before I had come into the ER I had reviewed her chart and had noted that the last time I admitted her to the hospital 3 months earlier she had a normal chest x-ray (no signs of cancer at all). I admitted her to the hospital that night and let her daughter know. We both agreed to let her rest and tell her the next morning.
That next morning She was doing fine, but I did what needed to be done and told her she had lung cancer. It was horrible. I could see the spirit deflate out of her, like a balloon in the dry heat. She had given up the moment I told her. And she died not 9 hours later. A lady who had lived through much worse had just given up and went Gently Into That Good Night. She isn’t the only one I’ve witnessed like this. I’ve had multiple patients who pass quickly once they have given up on life. It is the ultimate mind-body connection.
Arsheeya Mashaw is a geriatrician who blogs at A Doctors Guide to Healthy Aging.