From section “Compassion Hastens Healing” (pages 11 and 12)

….there was more to this healing work than simply prescribing drugs, herbs, or a referral for body work. I learned the importance of the therapeutic ceremony and how the actual process of delivering care can dramatically enhance the effectiveness of what is prescribed. Research now shows how this is possible—that is, how personal interactions can actually have physiological effects on patients. As I will explain more fully in ensuing chapters, the mere presence of others can heighten a person’s response to a treatment. For instance, a team, led by neurophysiologist Luana Colloca at the University of Turin in Italy, compared how people fared after surgery when they received pain medication in two distinct scenarios. For some, a nurse entered the room postsurgery and announced that the patient would be getting a powerful analgesic that would make the pain subside in a few minutes. A clinician then arrived and administered the treatment. For a second group, there was no announcement and no one to inject the drug. The patients received the same dose of medication by way of an IV injection from an automatic infusion machine and weren’t even informed when the infusion was begun.

Dr. Colloca found that patients receiving the drug by machine needed a 50 percent higher dose of painkiller than those who anticipated feeling better and received the drug from the nurse. In addition, one hour after treatment, patients on the drip described their pain as “much higher” than those who were given the drug by human hands. The expectancy created (“We are going to give you a pain medication to help you feel more comfortable”) and the actual presence of a person giving the medicine significantly enhanced the effect of the medicine. The lived experience is related to much more than just the intrinsic effect of the analgesic. Recent research has shown that positive expectations regarding pain reduces its severity by 28.4 percent, which is the equivalent of an average-size adult taking 8 mg of morphine.

After comprehending more about the power of the interactive process, I started to ask myself fresh questions about how I could more effectively influence healing in another. Have I been patient enough? Have I been insightful about my patients’ circumstances? Have I been imaginative about possible solutions? And then, there have been cases like Martha’s that have been so complex, I’ve wondered how a merely interactive process could ever contribute to improving such a challenging medical situation.