[The following passage is from Paul Brand’s Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, 1988. The son of English missionaries working in India, Brand went on to become a surgeon who developed new, innovative techniques for hand surgery. He also revolutionized our understanding of leprosy: the disfigurement and the loss of limbs is caused by the lack of respect for the body that results from the condition of painlessness (which is caused by the disease) and not because the disease causes the flesh to to become “non-healing” or to change in any way.]
The reason I encourage gratitude is that one’s underlying attitude (a product of the mind) toward the body can have a major impact on health. If I regard the body with respect, wonder, and appreciation, I will be far more inclined to behave in a way that sustains its health. In my work with leprosy patients, I could make repairs to hands and feet, but these improvements, I soon learned, amounted to nothing unless the patients themselves assumed responsibility for their limbs. The essence of rehabilitation—indeed, the essence of health—was to restore to my patients a sense of personal destiny over their own bodies.
When I moved to the United States, I expected to find that a society with such high standards of education and medical sophistication would foster a strong sense of personal responsibility in health. I have found exactly the opposite. In Western countries, an astounding proportion of the health problems stem from behavior choices that show disregard for the body’s clear signals.
We doctors know this truth, but we shy away from interfering in our patients’ lives. If we were fully honest, we might say something like this: “Listen to your body, and above all listen to your pain. It may be trying to tell you that you are violating your brain with tension, your ears with loudness, your eyes with constant television, your stomach with unhealthy food, your lungs with cancer-producing pollutants. Listen carefully to the message of pain before I give you something to relieve those symptoms. I can help with the symptoms, but you must address the cause.”
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