Misunderstandings can sometimes save lives. In his book Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins describes an incident that happened at UCLA Medical Center about fifty years ago. Cardiologist, Dr. Bernard Lown treated a very sick and dying patient. This patient had had a massive heart attack, so severe that it had irreparably destroyed his heart. At that time, there was no effective treatment that could save the man’s life.

UCLA is a teaching hospital and when the attending cardiologist brought his students in to visit the patient, this medically unsophisticated patient overheard Dr. Lown tell them that the patient’s heart had a wholesome gallop. A gallop is a serious cardiac dysrhythmia.  The patient had no idea that a wholesome gallop actually portends a very bad outcome. To this patient, the term wholesome gallop was equated with a healthy horse that still has a lot of kick in him.

This patient had been expected to die from his severely damaged heart. There was no surgical or medical treatment for such a damaged heart. However, much to the shock of everyone (except the patient) he fully recovered. When this patient returned several months later for a follow-up office appointment, he was in excellent health. During that appointment, he said: “Doctor, I knew I would be fine when I overheard you telling those medical students that my heart had a wholesome gallop!”

Although this degree of healing catalyzed by the power of belief is very rare, my explanation is that the patient’s very strong positive expectancy, created by his incredible misinterpretation of the doctor’s comment, served to somehow improve physiological functioning and restore his heart. Having studied physiology, there is no scientific explanation for this type of recovery, yet, on rare occasions, things like this happen and have been happening throughout history.

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