Psychology and Medicine

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine in Hong Kong told me he’s going for his vaccination.  I asked if he was excited.  He said not excited, but worried, because it’s a new vaccine with a lot of unknowns.  So I assured him that it would be fine, though I had even less knowledge of the vaccine than him.  Strangely, the more I assured him, the more he talked about the risks and complications.  Maybe he wanted me to transform every one of his concerns into assurance.    

After receiving the shot, he became confident, like it was no big deal.  He said the first half an hour after the vaccination was the most critical period, so he messaged me while sitting in the clinic.  I realized that’s where his confidence came from, that he was feeling fine while being monitored. 

Later after he got home, I told him about my experience getting my first and only flu shot decades ago.  My arm was numb for a few days and I couldn’t carry heavy things.  He couldn’t believe me, and said, “Maybe it’s just psychosomatic?”  But no, I actually had a muscular reaction to the flu shot, and since then, I avoided flu shots like avoiding the virus. 

But then I reconsidered his comment.  Perhaps he had a point.  Prior to the flu shot I was actually quite worried.  I remember thinking, ‘Every one receives the same dosage?  Wouldn’t that be too much for me, since I don’t weigh as much as the average person?’  Now I wondered, could it be my doubt and worry metaphysically manufacturing a numb limb, like an overdosed reaction?

When I first took iron pills, my doctor prescribed me a very high dosage, and I voiced my concern, “Would that cause toxicity?”  He dismissed my worry.  Later, I spoke to the pharmacist and she gave me a list of side effects, and affirmed my concern.  So every time I took the pill, I worried.  After a few months, I had constipation.  Never in my life did I have constipation.  But that time, it was like childbirth.  I was on all fours, panting, sweating, it was stuck half way, not in not out, or half in half out.  After a couple of hours of agony, I decided that I had to muster all my strength to push it out.  I felt a big round rock dynamited through my rectum and landed with a loud thunk in the toilet.  And my toilet couldn’t even flush.

Some women said it was worse than childbirth.  When I told my doctor about it, he prescribed me a different brand.  I was thinking, irregardless of the brand, it’s still iron.  But he said this one was different; wouldn’t cause constipation.  The pharmacist told me that all brands of iron pills were the same, with the same risk of constipation and other side effects.  I felt doomed.  After a discussion with a friend, she suggested something psychological or metaphysical to increase my absorption rate.  So I talked to my body.  First time I took the new iron pill, my stomach felt like it was raging a war.  And I said to it, “Please absorb all the iron.”  I didn’t have constipation from the new pill, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and also occasionally reminding my body to absorb it.

As you can see from the above two examples, one with me doubting and worrying, the other with me telling my body to accept it.  It was the same when I received iron infusion.  I psychologically prepped my body before the infusion, and during the process, I stayed with my body to make sure it was okay.  Thankfully I didn’t experience any side effects.

Many years ago, I was prescribed some medication for sleeping.  At that time I was averse to taking medication, because in biology class I learned of the negative effects on the body.  With that mentality, I took half of the prescribed dosage prior to going to bed.  I didn’t find myself falling asleep any faster than usual, but I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, vomiting violently.  Not only was it anti-sleeping, it was also violently jolting me in the middle of the night.  After my stomach tried to flip itself inside out, I felt worse than simply losing sleep.  I was dehydrated and exhausted.

Half a year ago, I asked my doctor for sleeping pills.  He and the pharmacist both said that it was a very light dosage.  I tried it.  It worked.  No anti-sleeping effect.  But I had talked to my body before taking it. 

As a preventive measure, I need to pay more attention to my thoughts and emotions, not just for mental health, but for physical health too, as they seem to have the power to produce physical effects.  So when it is my turn to take the vaccination, I will prep my body, by psychologically assuring that the new and foreign substance is safe, and coaxing my body several times prior to build antibodies.  I think as an extra cautionary measure, I will stay with my body a little bit longer, to let my body know that I will be there for it.

Some people pray before going for a major operation. Borrowing the same logic, we can also psychologically position ourselves to reduce medical risks and complications.

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