Monday, 2 January 2017

Health and Mind. Fortune and Misfortune

   Despite years of studying disease, both endogenous and exogenous and with absolutely no 'Evidence Based'  Research, to support my hypothesis, a life time of medical practice has convinced me that what many people have concluded intuitively is correct.  Health and longevity are more related to how you play your hand, than the hand you have been dealt.  Attitude is a key factor in the quality of life, as well as health and longevity.  I recently listened to the biography of the celebrated author, journalist and international commentator Dr. Charles Krauthammer, who transected his cervical spine and became quadriplegic in a diving accident.  He was a medical student at the time and he commented that he knew what happened as soon as soon as he hit the water.  Not being able to  move, he thought he was going to die right there in the water, but he was pulled out and and taken to the hospital.  He knew, he said, that he was never going to  walk again or fully use his upper limbs.  Nevertheless, he decided, there and then, that he was not going to let this interfere with his life, other than in his words, in how he dealt with the force of gravity.   Ponder that for a moment.  In a situation where most people would be totally devastated,  Krauthammer, an active and athletic medical student is already planning how he is not going to let this catastrophic event decimate his life.  Ridiculous!  But he succeeded and became one of the worlds most successful, award winning journalists.
   More than half a century of medical practice has convinced me that attitude makes a huge difference.  Time and time again, I have seen people "beat the odds", almost always those with a positive view.  I have repeatedly seen folks who seem to have nothing but misfortune and bad luck refuse to let it get them down.  I have wondered how some have dealt with  misfortune I could barely imagine and still have that vital elan that is a part of their being.   Others, lacking that esprit, are often devastated by relatively minor misfortunes and set-backs, sometimes to the extent that they never recover.  Somehow, the misfortunes are translated into physical changes which are permanent.  How can that be?
    Hans Selye, the Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist did indeed demonstrate that stress can cause physical changes including high blood pressure, immunological changes and actual changes in the brain.  The puzzling thing about this is that not all people are equally effected.  Recent research suggests that what matters is not just the level or type of stress, but how it is thought about.  It is well established that some stress is good.  In other words, the same stress can have a different effect to the extent that what is harmful to one being is beneficial to another.  Perceiving stress as a challenge rather than a threat produces psychological and physiological  responses that are very different.  "One man's stress is another man's spinach!"  
   We need to know why people like Krauthammer can deal with such catastrophe and still lead a full and meaningful life, while others disintegrate under much lesser misfortunes.  Some would say it is all in the genes, I think they are wrong.  
   It is all in the mind!  Now all we have to do is learn how to treat it.

                                     Happy New Year! 

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