Bernie Siegel, M.D., is one of my favourite health writers. Siegel, who prefers to be called “Bernie” instead of Dr. Siegel, is the author of “Love, Medicine and Miracles.” When it was published in 1986, I read the book very carefully. And what a book it was!
Obviously, Ann Landers felt the same way. Landers said, “Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and get this amazing book. . . . Every family should have a copy. It can be a life-saver.”
And eminent psychiatrist Karl Menninger said, “One of the most wonderful books I have ever read.”
Even though I had internalized Bernie’s philosophy, I haven’t re-read “Love, Medicine and Miracles” for years. But last Sunday, I once again looked at the book. I was surprised at how many Post-it notes marked special pages.
“Love, Medicine and Miracles” was Bernie’s first book, and it changed the way many doctors and patients viewed illness and wellness.
A general and pediatric surgeon, Bernie had cared for and counselled many very sick patients. He observed that some patients, who were declared terminal by their doctors, miraculously recovered.
On the other hand, some patients seemed to lose the will to live.
Curious about what made the difference, he began collecting stories about exceptional persons, who lived against all odds. And noted the characteristics of these survivors.
The whole title of his book is “Love, Medicine and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon’s Experience with Exceptional Patients.”
“Exceptional patients have taught me that the mind can dramatically affect the body,” he says.
In his chapter “Becoming Exceptional,” Bernie references psychologist Al Siebert’s list of personality traits shared by survivors of illness. A list that I have in my working notebook to remind me often what it takes to be a survivor.
One characteristic that I like especially is an active imagination and conversations with yourself.
I reminded my son about this one Sunday because, as a boy, he had a habit of interrupting my personal conversations with myself. “Please speak up! I can’t hear what you’re saying,” he would say.
Other characteristics on the list are aimless playfulness for its own sake, an observant non-judgmental style, willingness to laugh at yourself, ability to be positive and confident in adversity, and the feeling of getting smarter and enjoying life more as you get older.
Bernie says, “The ability to love oneself, combined with the ability to love life, fully accepting that it won’t last forever, enables one to improve the quality of life.”
Bernie references early 20th-century physician William Osler, who said, “It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.”
The truth is: Healing has to come from the inside. Surgery and medicine can help, but self-love and determination also are very important, asserts Bernie.
He says exceptional patients do not rely on doctors to take all the initiative, but rather use them as members of a healing team. Very important members with excellent knowledge, skills, and techniques.
But after all, you live in your own body 24 hours a day. Trust yourself. Do your part—live, laugh, and love! And always remember that healing comes from the inside.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visit-snider.com
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