Can illness actually heal us?

by Jan Bonhoeffer

Can illness actually heal us?

I have always thought that my role as a pediatrician was to reduce suffering and help set patients on a fast track to a positive state of health.

Success has traditionally been measured by the absence of the initial symptoms or what we usually call ‘the patient’s presenting complaint.’

The faster they were pulled out of suffering and got back to normal, the better, as far as we were concerned.

To give you an example, Enya, my own five year old daughter contracted influenza a few weeks ago. She felt really poorly, ‘presenting with’ a high fever, aches and pains all over her body and deep-seated coughing which produced a lot of phlegm. She wasn’t drinking, had no appetite and slept almost constantly for the first three days of her illness. Surrounded by family life, lying on a mattress on the floor in the living room, she was essentially sleeping.

So I was quite worried and wanted to give her medicine to reduce her cough and anti-inflammatories to reduce her fever, make her feel better, see her smile again.

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, love,’ Jessica said gently as I approached our daughter proffering a spoonful of medication.

‘Why would you want to give her drugs, just to get her to sit up? Can’t we just let her go through this process?’ queried my wife.

 

‘Look, she’s not drinking properly, she’s not well, and she’s suffering! I love her, of course I don’t want to see her suffer,’ I offered.

‘Why don’t you want to see her suffering?’ Jessica prompted.

That shocked me. ‘Who wants to see their child suffer?’ I begged. ‘It’s obvious to me that we would want to give her drugs so she doesn’t need to suffer anymore, right?’

Our discussion continued in a way that made no sense to me at the time. But my wife was adamant. Finally I gave in. ‘OK, I hear your point.

The drugs aren’t really curing her illness; they’re just reducing her immune response so she can feel better in the short-term.

And you’d like us to consider other approaches that will make her feel better in the long-term. Is that right?’

Jessica nodded quietly, her eyes full of compassion.

‘Then I want to be at her bedside and hold her hand while she fights the virus,’ I explained as one part in me listened to the other part speaking.

As I lay down close to Enya, holding and comforting her, she responded immediately. She opened her feverish eyes and looked deeply into mine. Then she cuddled up as if she was seeking shelter and drifted back to sleep. Being able to help her without resorting to drugs appeased my conscience and I felt more deeply connected to my little daughter as we went through this difficult time together.

Caring for Enya meant that I couldn’t keep to my work schedule, nor could I stick to the promise I’d made myself to get up at 4am every day to make recordings for Heart Based Medicine. But none of that mattered because I was with my daughter when she needed me.

When I look back, I’m really grateful for what that bout of influenza taught me. I’d learned what was truly healing and contributed to good health for both of us. Although anti-inflammatories would have been a short-term solution, the most holistic approach was lying down alongside her, providing love and comfort and strengthening her confidence in her own body’s ability to overcome the illness.

 

The bonus? As Enya’s immune system got stronger, so did our relationship.

I was even grateful when the influenza spread to everyone in the family! It gave me a chance to be at home with each of my kids, holding and supporting them. Our whole family dynamic changed as I grew into a new understanding of fatherhood.

This was a true demonstration of Heart Based Medicine in practice.

I’m certainly not wishing influenza on anyone – it kills a lot of people every year. Nor am I claiming that anti-inflammatories are the bad guys; they can be a blessing. But I have learned to appreciate the value of another perspective.

This experience provoked a major change in the mindset of a conventional infectious disease and vaccine specialist. It was revealing to discover that my specific knowledge of influenza as a potentially life-threatening illness with all its signs, symptoms, and complications, was too simplistic. My training as a biomedically trained pediatrician blinded me to its many facets. And it proved useful for me to prioritize Heart-Based Medicine before turning automatically to allopathic medicine.

In the future, I’d like to think my decision making will be less schematic and more loving. I will advise parents differently and start to raise their awareness that if they are able to give their children emotional support and special care while they are suffering, it will strengthen their bodies and their resilience.

As well as developing within their children the foundation of basic trust in their own self-healing ability it will also teach them the value of staying together as a family during times of suffering.

Disease is an important part of life, and not necessarily one that has to be changed just because it is not in line with my preference or an idea of ‘normal’ which was learned mostly from a textbook. Symptom relief certainly has its place, but not as a replacement for heartfelt care and sensitivity. This is the true blessing of heart-based medicine.

The story above is based on personal experiences. Places and names are fictional.

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