I wish all physicians had the methods of suggestion which my doctor uses; that is, when visiting a patient not to ask the first minute, “How are you?” but to mention some topic outside the patient’s health. I did not realize this potency until my doctor went away on a vacation and left me in another physician’s care; one who never talked of anything but my aches and pains from the minute he entered until he left the room. At the end of the week I puzzled why I gave him so much worse account than to my own doctor. Then I decided on this plan; you may laugh at me, but, as I could not make the doctor talk of anything else, I tried to put my own mind on something that was outside myself. While I talked to him I thought of his necktie, tried to notice any change, whether he wore a different one from one day to another. Entirely, without meaning to be rude, at the end of a few days I had him fingering and pulling quite unconsciously the ends of his necktie and I had to put my mind on something else. My suggestion, however, did not reach so far as to lead him to make any change, for he wore the same suit and necktie every day the four weeks he visited me. When my doctor returned I spoke to him about his own method; and he said he put nearly as much thought into the process of suggestion as he did into his diagnosis and prescription; and judged my condition far more often by the way I responded to his first remarks than from what I told him of myself, and therein, I think lies half his success. I told him jokingly that years ago I had read a very interesting series of letters aloud to my father— and that when I recovered I was going to turn the table on all my doctors and write an article “Simple Suggestions to the Medical Profession from a Patient.” To sum up what I mean, I wish doctors and also visitors realized what a mental atmosphere they bring to the sick and leave with them. It seems to me, surgeons are the gravest men I ever knew, and I think if they were a little less so, some of their operations would be more successful. Of course they take such great responsibilities in questions of life and death it makes them grave.
And now that I am speaking of mental atmosphere I must tell you of one of my unsuccessful moments. After a severe attack of grippe I was sent to a health resort where every one was more or less sick. It was not a sanatorium, but in the hotel was a sun parlor where those too ill to exercise spent most of their days. Never in my life did I hear so much about sickness. It was nearly the only topic talked about, and as you say,”Health is contagious,” so I believe that much talking about sickness is decidedly unhealthy. I wish doctors realize how much patients often talk in their waiting rooms, and especially at health resorts, telling one another all about their symptoms and pains. I amused myself by tracing different symptoms from one person to another in a certain class of unsettled patients during the first two weeks. Then one morning I tried to stem and change the current thought in the few patients near me by suggesting that each one of us tell the best and the most amusing story he or she could think of, not about sickness. This idea with several others I suggested took for a few days, but I found I could not change the tone of the place, and after some weeks I fled from my Nineveh, so to speak, to my home and then had to wait for my gourd to grow and to learn my lesson. I should have created my own mental atmosphere and kept it clear and pure and I could only have done this by being more by myself. Often when we try to help others we undertake too much, and we do not give ourselves time to go to the source of all strength to fill our reservoirs. As Christ said to His disciples when they asked why they could not cast out the evil spirit, “This kind cometh forth but by prayer and fasting.” I suppose fasting means self-denial. How difficult this is for us!
P.S. I do apologize for making this letter long for I had much to say.
E. Worcester 1908