One book that impacted me early on in life was a book titled Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, by Norman Cousins. Dr. Cousins was the editor of the Saturday Review, and after a harsh trip to Russia, which caused him great stress, he developed a painful and debilitating condition causing him to be admitted to the hospital. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a progressive condition that was expected to lead to him being bedridden and eventually dead.
Unhappy with the hospital environment, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel room. He felt that if the stress of his trip contributed to the onset of his illness, then a key to recovery would be to create the opposite environment. He felt that laughter would be the best medicine and set out to watch as much comedy as he could in that hotel room to get himself to laugh as much as possible (along with high doses of vitamin C). Over time, he recovered in a way that defied the odds and surprised his doctors.
Norman Cousins said something that stuck with me all these years… “Accept the verdict, defy the sentence.” I want you to think about that quote… it is very powerful. Our circumstances are our circumstances, but what we do about those circumstances is what determines our outcomes in life. It applies to all areas of life, but in regards to health, think about its implications.
When you have been given a diagnosis, it can often times be hard to argue with that. If the blood work, scans, and other diagnostic testing indicate that you have a particular condition, you likely do have that condition. The next thing the doctor will usually do is tell you what you can expect as a result of having that condition. This is where you might have a little more control. The diagnosis is the verdict. Being told what you can expect as a result of that condition is the sentence.
It is the responsibility of the doctor to tell you what to expect as a result of that diagnosis and that treatment. That information is based on how the average patient has responded once diagnosed. Let’s say your doctor tells you that you have multiple sclerosis (MS), then says you can expect fatigue, muscle spasms, numbness and tingling in your arms and legs, walking difficulties, and the eventual need for a wheelchair. You accept the verdict… the diagnosis of MS, but you may defy the sentence… that long list of symptoms.
Everyone is different. Everyone eats, moves, and thinks differently. That is why no doctor can say with certainty how one person will progress with a condition. If the prognosis given is based on averages, and you do things that are above average to boost your health, you will have a better chance of having a better response over time.
Norman Cousins’ work led to research on the power of the mind, laughter, and attitude on healing. There is no question these things have an incredible impact on health and healing. Nobody will dispute this. But the takeaway from this article is that we often have to accept the verdict… (You have a certain disease or disability… You come from a certain neighborhood… You were treated unfairly… You did suffer a significant trauma…), but we can defy the sentence.
Well-meaning and big-hearted people may be spot-on with the verdict, but if you choose to respond differently and do things differently, they could be completely incorrect about the sentence!