If it can happen to someone like him, it can happen to anyone.
When Dr. Jerome Groopman’s right wrist became swollen and inflamed, his doctor was baffled as to the cause. Test followed test with no results, until a hand surgeon he was referred to ordered a bone scan not only of the affected wrist, but of all the bones in his body.
The results were alarming.
“The wrist is not your major concern,” the surgeon said when he called him at home. “It looks like there are multiple metastases in your ribs. You’re an oncologist. You should speak with one of your colleagues about what to do next.”
Cancer. He had cancer, and it had metastasized. As a cancer specialist, Groopman knew that there was little hope that he would recover from this.
Minutes after receiving the news, Groopman’s ribs were on fire. He felt as though someone had hit him over and over with a hammer. The pain was overwhelming and would not go away no matter what he did, and he tossed and turned all night as the pain in his chest built up and accelerated. He was in agony.
In spite of the pain, his wife, who is also a doctor, held onto hope, telling her husband that scans of that nature can at times suggest disease even when the bones are clear. “First thing in the morning,” she told Groopman, “get an X-ray of your ribs.”
If there were cancer deposits, an X-ray would remove all doubt.
At his own hospital the next morning, Dr. Jerome Groopman had his ribs X-rayed. Nothing abnormal showed up, and slowly, the pain subsided.
There is a phenomenon known as Medical Students Disease in which a whopping 70 to 80 percent of medical students—who spend hours delving into the various known illnesses and their symptoms—become convinced that they are deathly ill. Dr. Groopman says that he did not experience this common form of hypochondria, nor—as a class in hypnosis in which he volunteered to be hypnotized proved—was he suggestible to hypnotic suggestion.
And yet, convinced that he was sick, his mind created symptoms for him.
It is incredible how powerful the mind can be. So relates Dr. Groopman in his article regarding a groundbreaking book about psychosomatic disorders.
Psychosomatic disorders, or Somatic Symptom Disorder, is a disease that involves both the mind and the body. In these cases, there is no disease of the body at all except for the one that is in your head, suggested to you by your own mind.
The power of mental suggestion is especially strong when the one doing the suggesting is a doctor, or some sort of medical professional in a position of authority.
Daniella Nussbaum shares with me her personal story:
“I had an eating disorder for years and years,” she says frankly, “and I went to seek the help of a very well known psychologist. I wanted to go to someone who would really help me, and I figured that someone with 20 years of experience, who has so many people saying that she’s wonderful, fits the bill.”