Friday, February 29, 2008
Don't Worry, Heal Happy
On a pass through Kevin MD's website a while ago, I saw a reference to an article which reported a study on anger and healing. The report, at BBC online, said, in part:
"The Brain Behavior and Immunity study indicates stress has a major impact on the body's ability to repair itself. Nearly 100 participants were asked to rate how well they could control their temper, and the speed at which they recovered from a blister was monitored. Hotheads were more than four times likely to take more than four days to heal than mild-mannered counterparts.... The team at Ohio State University gave participants blisters on one of their arms and then monitored how the wound healed over the course of eight days. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire which looked at how anger was expressed - whether externally, by shouting at others, for instance, or internally, when one rages insides but keeps a cool exterior."
At the end of the article, there was this:
"Steve Bloom, professor of metabolic medicine at Imperial College, London, said stress was now increasingly recognized as a factor in recovery rates. "Your body prioritises and sorts one thing out at a time, so if you are stressed - angry in this case - your body works through that before it gets on with the process of healing. We've yet to see a study that categorically proves having an attentive, calming presence by your bedside actually speeds up your recovery, but the evidence is certainly pointing that way." (My emphasis.)"
Studies like these (judging emotion) are a little squishy, and one might well challenge the methodology, not to mention that "prioritises" deduction. But it sorta kinda rings true, off the top of my head. Naturally, I extrapolated. I think there's an important message; or at least there might be.
I often heard from nurses on the surgical floor that my patients were calm and positive when they arrived, and that they seemed to do better than those of other surgeons. (No, I can't say it wasn't just a way to ingratiate -- for all I know, they said it to every surgeon.) Of course, I loved hearing it; it went to a very specific aim and belief of mine. If their assessment was true -- and this is me saying it was -- it validates an overt effort on my part to achieve a sense of comfort and confidence, a positive attitude toward recovery. I've always thought it makes a difference. (I recognize the article in question doesn't draw an outright conclusion. "Pointing that way," is what it says.) (Nor, let it be said, am I talking about "cure." Just recovery from surgery.)
The antithesis is the doctor -- any type, really, but in this context a surgeon -- who makes hospital rounds, perfunctorily pokes and prods and leaves with little or no meaningful communication, ignoring obvious concerns. Having watched such behavior while visiting hospitalized friends and relatives, I can say it leaves the patient and family angry and frustrated, which, this info would suggest, is actually medically counterproductive. Doctors can't, of course, remain a "calming presence by the bedside" for more than a very few minutes at a time; but we can listen, explain, even sit down and look the patient in the eye. Not only is it the human and natural way to behave, if it produces the opposite of anger, it looks like it might actually be medicinal! Even grumpy docs give antibiotics when needed. In the same spirit, maybe they'll work to provide a decent dose of needed nice.