I was drawn to a drive today just in time to happen on an episode of RadioLab on The Power of Belief in Healing, ranging from the attention of a mother’s kiss to shamanic ritual to placebo pill colour to the power of the white coat.
One of the themes on this blog for the full decade of its existence is “Who heals the healers?” While I think of myself as just a caregiver, I know that for my family and for others, I serve as a healer, with the experience of my wounds offering confidence and insight.
The interview with Dr. Naji Abumrad very much touched me. He is a senior medical doctor who understands the power of belief and performance in helping patients move beyond sickness to find healing. He does believe in the best medical practice available, but knows that healing isn’t just technical, rather it is an art.
In the story, one of Dr. Abumrad’s patients speaks of how she is able to leave survival mode for a moment because of trust in her doctor. She could let go of her burdens, putting them in the hands of her sure, white coated doctor. She got the power of his skill, his confidence, his belief, helping pull her from all the noise so she could focus on this moment, so she could focus on the notion that while she might never be the same, some level of relief, of healing was possible for her. As a doctor, he had to be fearless about what she faced, instead looking for ways that can make tomorrow better, knowing clearly that no tomorrow will be perfect or unblemished.
My sister was clear about the most important thing I gave my parents: they trusted me completely. They knew I wouldn’t lie to them, but they also knew that I would be there, doing whatever it took to give them one more good day.
That was my commitment, my service as a healer. I could not take them back to an old, lost normal, but I could be there to help them today, changing their minds to find possibilities.
This is the power of belief in healing. If you don’t believe that one more good day is possible, it never will be. Rolling back time is impossible, but even if you are unable to erase the accident or the illness, you can transcend the sickness and suffering around it to claim some kind of healing, some kind of possibility, some kind of new normal.
I sobbed listening to this story because I remembered how important my role as a healer always has been, how I value it and give it freely. I sobbed too because I felt the lack of a healer in my life, someone who could hold my burdens for a bit, giving me wisdom, confidence and faith that healing is possible for me, too. Who heals the healers?
The binary of either sick or well isn’t valid. We all are broken and we are all transcendent, we are all wounded and all healers. Shamans know that, which is why rituals — tricks — that encourage people to choose healing have power. Everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even us, but we can support and facilitate healing by doing the work.
A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, said Osler. The limits to our power to get outside our subjective self and see ourselves in context are profound.
RadioLab reminded me of the value of my work as a healer, of the work we each do to facilitate healing in the world. It also reminded me how hard it is for healers to find healing, instead being constrained by the fears of others.
Who heals the healers? I struggle with that.
Am I a healer, working with belief and possibility? No doubt.
I sort of suspect that in the end, empowering growth by facilitating healing is always at the core of doing the work, for others and for ourselves.