Friday, November 12, 2004


I've been reading a book entitled "Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient" by Norman Cousins. The big idea in this book is that a critical component in the prevention and healing of disease is the patient's will to live -- his ability to mobilize his own body's defenses through a positive attitude and a proactive approach towards his own health. This idea was a breakthrough when it was written in the 1970s, but at this point it's a generally accepted principle. The effectiveness of somewhat dubious holistic medicine as well as the placebo effect can be explained by pointing to the psychological effects these things have on the mind, which in turn helps the body heal itself in a real and positive way. The book also stresses the need for emphasis in preventative medicine and nutrition, a stance that in modern times is generally accepted and even commonplace.

Lepers were given as an example of why pain, which is still approached as a bad thing to be eliminated with painkillers, is a positive and necessary component to biofeedback. Leprosy, and its corresponding loss of appendages, was for a long time seen as a degenerative disease that caused limbs to fall off. A doctor by the name of Paul Brand discovered, through his studies at a leper colony, dispelled that misconception. He realized that the main thing leprosy does is deaden the nerve receptors in the body, making the person unable to experience pain or even sensations of pressure. With the absence of feedback, a leper will accidentally severely damage or even break off his limbs, and when sleeping on the street rats would bite off parts of them without them being able to notice. The moral of the story is that in his lifetime Dr. Brand worked to restore the gift of pain, because pain is what tells us both that something is wrong and that something must be done. What must be done is not necessarily taking painkillers, but getting to the root of the problem, which may be injury, disease, or even psychological causes like stress.