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Readings: The Anatomy of Hope


On the NCNM Class of 2011 Student email list, someone posted a list of recommended books. The list was two pages long, and the students had made some notes about the value of each book. I took that list to the library the other day, and about half of those books are in the Flagstaff library. I brought the first one home and read it in two days.

Jerry Groopman is a cancer doc whose most recently released book is called "How Doctors Think". He was interviewed in NPR, and he speaks well. This book, "The Anatomy of Hope" tell the story of his learning how to communicate and foster hope in his patients. Late in the book he looks ever so slightly at the hormonal systems that are influenced by stress and relieved to some degree by hope, but mostly he tells his own story.

One of his early experiences, under the guidance of another physician, involved not telling a mother and daughter enough about the mother's condition and chances. In reaction to his guilt about not telling them enough, he began to tell his patients too much----too much fact and not enough hope, that is. Somewhere in his career he seems to have found the balance for his patients.

But in his personal life he had a back injury that tied him up for 15 years. It hurt every time he did anything, so he was afraid to move much. His unwillingness to move made his condition worse until he was completely limited by a back injury that had actually completely healed--his limiting condition was a long term muscular imbalance. He finally found a doctor who was able to give HIM hope---hope that he could rehabilitate his back and live a normal life, unafraid of the pain that had wracked him for so many years. And he was healed by physical therapy.

After that experience he dedicated his own life and research to the "mind-body connection", which in his training as an MD was given lip service but no more. And Groopman found what many of us know from experience; that hope can alleviate pain, and that biological conditions that directly compromise life also kill hope...

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