Can the Presence of Family and Friends Help You Heal?


• Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Professor and Associate Chair of Psychology at the University of North Carolina: "I don't know if there are data, but people who are socially isolated, I would believe, would recover more slowly (on average -- of course, everyone is different) because they might have greater stress, which causes chemical changes in the body that interfere with healing. Having the President of the U.S. at your bedside (provided you are able to even realize he's there), would almost certainly cause chemical changes in the body that would be the opposite of a stress response"

"Family Support Does Not Help"

• Mitchell Roslin, Bariatric Surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York: "It fills our heart with joy when we hear the story of the Rutgers football player who we thought was paralyzed now showing neurological function. It is probably comforting to recognize a soothing voice when we emerge from sedation. But how much of the progress is due to the football player's mom being bedside? Do the people who improve less, get less love? I think it is more our desire to provide a rationale and control for things that we cannot control"

• Kostas Lyketsos, Director of the Neuropsychiatry Service at Johns Hopkins Medical Center: "From my point of view there is ZERO convincing evidence to support this"

• Art Reingold, Head of the Division of Epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley: "No, there is no credible evidence that prayer or faith or feelings of/by others have any impact on health/cure rates/recovery from any form of illness or injury, much as many people 'of faith' would like to believe."

Doctors' experiences with the power of family support and touch…

• Harley A. Rotbart, Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics, University of Colorado: "The first 'miracle' I witnessed was as a resident. Two young brothers, ages 3 and 7, were brought into the emergency room and then the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia after near-drowning episodes. It was winter, and the 3 year had fallen into a swimming pool with enough residual water that he couldn't stand.

"His 7-year-old brother jumped in, pulled the younger boy to one of the pool's steps where the 3-year-old's head was out of the water, but the 7-year-old was then himself overwhelmed by the freezing water and couldn't get out before submerging.

"When paramedics arrived, both boys were unconscious. In the ICU, the younger boy regained consciousness within a few hours and was neurologically normal. The older brother remained in a coma for weeks. The family stood vigil every day, and the residents took over in the evenings and overnight, holding the older boy's hand, talking and singing to him.

"We all prayed. Not in an organized way, or even in a traditional way, but each of us in his or her own way. It was on my 'watch,' late at night when I felt the 7-year-old squeeze my hand while I was reading to him. Just once. By that time, weeks into his stay in the ICU, discussions were beginning about discontinuing support, brain death, etc. I told everyone on rounds the next morning about the hand squeeze. Most of my colleagues and supervisors attributed it to involuntary muscle spasms.

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