Larry Dossey, a well known authority on prayer in medicine, is one of our favorite thinkers of our time.
Dr. L: Larry, you have been at the forefront of this movement to change medicine. What do you see as the biggest problems with the current system?
- Safety- Each year, 225,000 people die in our hospitals because of mistakes, errors, and the side effects of drugs. As a consequence, modern hospital care has become the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer.
- Effectiveness – We now rank 29th in the world in longevity, and 36th in infant mortality, behind countries such as Cuba, Aruba, and Slovenia.
- Expense – Medical bills and illness are the cause of around half of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. each year.
- Availability – More than 45 million have no medical insurance in the U.S., including 8 million children.
- Applicability – ¾ of the people who go to front-line physicians have nothing physically wrong with them, which means they are beyond the reach of what modern medicine has to offer.
Dr. L: I love your latest book, The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things, Why did you write it?
LD: When you think of modern medicine, the images that come to mind for most people are high-tech, complex, and expensive pharmaceutical drugs, surgical procedures, transplants, or up-and-coming therapies such as stem cells. We may need these one of these days. But for most people, most of the time, we can take care of our health in more down-to-earth ways. Behind the high-tech world there is another reality a world of simple, ordinary things that have an extraordinary power to heal.
You know about some of these things, such as the value of a good diet, exercise, controlling stress in your life, and so on. But in the book, I’ve gone in a different direction, addressing issues which are almost never discussed.
We really do need to understand this, and not fall into the belief that we have to farm out our healthcare to professionals we think know more than we do. If we focus on these simple, ordinary things, we will live longer and be healthier and happier.
There is an old saying: “If you want to hide the treasure, put it in plain sight. Then no one will see it.” These ordinary health measures are in plain sight, yet they usually go unnoticed.
Dr. L: You talk about Music in the book and I too believe that Music is Medicine.
LD: We are in love with music. Think iPod, the hottest contraption around. There are around 180 million hits on Google for music. The only other item for which there are more hits is sex.
But music is much too powerful to be used as mere entertainment. Let me give you examples of two English cases who were unconscious; and who both woke up with Christmas carols.
One was a 66-y.o. man with brain hemorrhage from diving into pool; For 4 months, he was in intensive care unit, responding with only “yes” and “no” to questions. When carolers came by and sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” he chimed in and sang his heart out. After that, he made a good recovery.
Another was a 27-y.o. male school teacher, unconscious in hospital from meningitis. Fifteen school kids came by singing Christmas carols. The man started twitching, trying to pull out his endotracheal tube. The nurses started to cry. Soon after, he was taken off life support and was discharged two weeks later.
If you have had surgery recently, your surgeon was probably listening to music while he operated on you. Research shows this is good for surgeons; they have less of a stress response during surgery if they listen to music they like, no matter if its Willie Nelson or Beethoven, so long as the surgeon likes it.
I’m fascinated by the power of music to affect not just the health of individuals, but also of societies. This was recognized as far back as Plato and Socrates, who railed against the corrupting power of certain kinds of music.
Totalitarian regimes have always known this. Often the first thing they want to get control of is the music. A classic example was the Taliban, who took over Afghanistan after the Soviets were kicked out in the late 80s. They banned music and musical instruments. They destroyed the archives of Afghani music that were housed in Kabul. They executed many people in the soccer stadium in Kabul for playing music and musical instruments.
What’s the big deal? They realize the emotional power behind music, and that, in a society in which literacy rates are not high, music can take the place of books in conveying ideas and rebellion. That’s why they scared to death of it. And they should be.Some of the oddest research I came across deals with Stuck Tune Syndrome the ditty you just can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try. This is very common. In the book I list the most frequent tunes that get stuck in people’s minds, and ways of getting it out of your mind. How? Well, I ain’t gonna tell you. Buy the book, or risk suffering from Stuck Tune Syndrome!
Dr. L: You also talk about Forgetting, what do you mean by that?
LD: Thomas Merton said, “If I am going to have a true memory, there are a thousand things that must first be forgotten.”
My medical school professor: “In 10 years, you will forget 99 percent of everything we have taught you.” This was not all bad. He also said, “Half of what we have taught you is correct. The other half is incorrect. Unfortunately, we can’t tell one half from the other.”
People who have great memories are also forgetful. Tatiana Cooley, a young woman who recently won the national memory contest, who could recall pages in the phone book, e.g., says she â€œ”lives by Post-Its.”
We say,”Forgive and forget.” This is probably the most important way that forgetting contributes to our health.
Think what happens when people can’t forget and forgive.
Bosnia remembered its defeat at the Battle of Kosovo in the 14th century, and the ongoing hatred played a role in the recent war in Bosnia.
We Southerners remember our defeat in the Civil War. Unable to forget it, we reenact battles year after year, and many hold grudges to this day. Some even insist, “The South will rise again.”
Germany could not forget its defeat and humiliation in WW I, which led directly to WW II. Would the world not have been better if some forgetting had taken place in each instance?
This is probably the most important contribution forgetting makes to our health: forgiving others, letting bygones be bygones. There is a cadre of scientists called “forgiveness researchers,” who look at the impact of forgiveness on health. It is good not just for our mental, but also for our physical health.
A new field in medicine: forgiveness research. It could also be called forgive-and-forget research.
Unforgiving is directly related with anger, hostility, aggression, and stress. When people can’t forget and forgive, stress hormones in the body increase, such as cortisol and adrenaline. There is some evidence showing that a forgiving-and-forgetting attitude results in increases in immune cells in the blood. [Everett Worthington, of Virginia Commonwealth University, is one of the leading researchers in this area.]
How do we go about this sort of forgetting and forgiving? It involves repairing our relations with others. It doesn’t mean becoming amnesic for wrongs and slights from others, but forgetting in the sense that the memory does not trigger anger, hostility, and aggression, and the negative impact on our mental and physical health that goes with these negative emotions. This happens when we learn how to replace anger, hostility, and hatred with tolerance, empathy, and love. There are many ways to forget and forgive. All religious and spiritual traditions emphasize forgiveness. Psychological counseling and psychotherapies have ways of helping people cultivate empathy, compassion, and love. Do charity work; get your hands dirty in a soup kitchen. When you do things for others, forgiveness gets easier when you see how good you have it in life. Take a look at Dr. Worthington’s Handbook of Forgiveness for other hints.
Dr. L: There are 12 more ordinary things that you talk about and that I would encourage my readers to check out. But in conclusion, what would you like to tell the Reader
LD: For 90 percent of us, 90 percent of the time, it’s the simple, ordinary things we can do for our health that are more valuable than the high-tech, expensive and often hazardous forms of medical care that are out there -though it’s good that they’re there when we need them.
That’s where simple, ordinary measures come in.
These factors could be considered forms of preventive medicine. Unlike most forms of preventive medicine, however, they’re free. They’re available for the taking.
We desperately need to construct a healing system that is less dangerous, less costly, and more applicable to everyone.
I believe these ordinary things I’ve discussed in my book The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things is a step in that direction.