I recently found a book of lectures given by physician James Tyler Kent in the early 1900s. I flipped through the book and found a section where the author shares how physicians and nurses can stay healthy during a plague. He made an interesting assertion. Dr. Kent said that the best way to survive a plague is by administering to the patients with no fear. He went on to explain how joy and love are the best defense against getting sick.
These lectures were written over a century ago. At that time, medicine, immunizations, and the other incredible tools we have today did not exist. However, there’s a relatively new field of medicine called psychoneuroimmunology. This field is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous system and the immune system.
New research traces the pathways of the interaction between the mind and the body. A small study featuring college students showed that their immunity went down during exams as measured by the presence of natural killer cells that help fight tumors and viral infections. In addition, depression and isolation can hinder the body’s ability to fight infections.
Another article shows the role of inflammation as brought on by psychological stress has on the immune system. During acute stress that lasts only minutes, the body releases certain types of cells into the bloodstream. Their purpose is to prepare the body for injury or infection.
Thankfully, if you can stay in a more loving state, you’re more likely to survive a pandemic. Dr. Kent was right about something else too: love heals us. Love protects us. This is based on what we know as human beings.
Taking joy in our work and approaching our patients with love helps caregivers and patients too.
In my last post, I shared my experience with my attending physician in the emergency room. If I had to use one word to describe how I felt in his presence, that word would be “love.” Love that was active, protective, and fierce. And that experience helped me heal.
Even though we can’t measure it, put it in a bottle, or feel it when we are scared, we all know about love. Each of us has felt love in one or many of its many forms. There is love for a parent, love for a friend, love for a child, romantic love, and patriotic love. And we even have love for our patients and coworkers.
One of the best ways I’ve found to love my coworkers is to help them find joy at work during the most stressful time of year – November and December. Most customers get sick during those months. There are more prescriptions to fill, dozens of flu shots to give, and people are often in a bad mood due to the added financial pressures of the holidays.
One year I held a little contest at work. The person who gets to take care of the angriest customer on the phone or at the drive-through window, and manages to turn the interaction into a positive one, wins a cash prize.
A few years ago, I announced the rules of the contest and put a ten-dollar bill on the bulletin board. I said, “This money goes home to whoever has the ‘worst turned to best’ customer experience.” That very first day I watched out of the corner of my eye as one of my coworkers was explaining a billing situation to an angry patient. Within minutes, this patient was calmed down and walked away happy. My coworker came up to me and said, “That was actually fun. Interactions like this usually put me in a bad mood all day.” She won the ten dollars that day.
Don’t be afraid to be creative at work. Find ways to help your staff and patients know you love them. Go ahead and tap into that big mysterious powerful love. When you do, you’ll get a big dose of it too.