A thoughtful article by Sara Phillips in the HuffPost Lifestyle UK called “What’s in a name?” is a heartfelt plea to the pharma industry to change the way they think about patients.
Hers is one of many concerned voices pointing out that good practice for carers is to see beyond “the cancer in bed 3” to the individual being nursed and treated.
As Phillips says: “The best way to understand a person is to see them as a whole.”
While unemployed in the 1980s I was often asked: “So what do you do?” For a time I would reply: “I am a Bruce Springsteen fan!” It brought a smile to some of my questioners but didn’t stop them repeating their inquiry. Yet it was my way of saying: “I am not just defined by the work I do – or don’t do.”
The importance of not being defined by just a single factor is even more pertinent when struggling with illness. This was made clear in a recent book called “soul matters” by London GP Dr Mabel Aghaiuno.
She writes: “Each individual is unique and holism underlines this uniqueness. Holism sees people as parts of a family, culture and community and regards people as entities with physical, psychological, sociocultural and spiritual aspects.”
Highlighting the spiritual dimension of the individual, the author refers to a survey in the Midlands in 2007. Researchers found the patients’ sense of “not being myself” was one of the two main reasons they felt “spiritually distressed”.
But patients said helping others could help them regain their “spiritual wholeness”.
That was my experience as a 13 year old. When I was admitted to hospital for an operation I felt isolated from my family and had only sporadic contact with nurses.
This changed when Tracey arrived on the ward. At half my age she was much more distressed at being separated from home and parents. As I made it my mission to befriend and support her my sense of self-worth began to return.
Had I not done so I would have remained as I was, with little sense of identity outside of my problem.
For many sickness becomes the centre and circumference of their existence. It takes over their thinking.
So how do we re-establish our identity in the face of adversity, whether it be illness, unemployment or relationship problems?
The Arthritis Foundation gives us a clue.
In an article on its website it says certain attitudes can have a significant health benefit.
“Forgiveness – giving up resentment or anger toward another – can greatly reduce your body’s anger and stress responses, which adversely affect your mental and physical health.”
Referring to recent research, the organisation said such mental spring-cleaning saw people experiencing “reduced feelings of restlessness, nervousness and hopelessness” as well as lowering blood pressure and heart rates.
This points to the fact that the way we think can be key to regaining our wholeness. Loving our neighbour, forgiving and being patient, have a divine source which can significantly improve our health.