Controlled Arrogance

Controlled Arrogance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

Controlled Arrogance

The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases

is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.


Surgery is controlled arrogance. Considering a heart surgeon needs to take a band saw through a patient’s breastbone in order to help him or her, confidence is more essential than politeness, humbleness and a slew of other socially rewarded attributes. But the operative word to describe surgeons is “controlled,” not “arrogance,” and our patients teach us the difference. The wisdom needed to offer true healing comes from listening to clues continually offered by people willing to risk their lives by trusting our judgment.

That includes people like Frank, who arrived at my hospital unconscious and barely alive, with a breathing tube down his throat and industrial strength drugs being pumped into both his swollen arms. A 52-year-old truck driver, Frank had suffered a massive heart attack — the leading cause of death in the U.S. — after sanding snowy roads during a 36-hour storm. Historically, his chances of surviving were less than 10 percent. But, today, we have mechanical pumps to support damaged hearts, and Frank Jones lived after undergoing this massive surgery. Modern medicine had worked. Or had it?

While I was busy giving myself a rotator cuff injury congratulating myself on the remarkable success of my operation, Frank was livid that we had saved him. More importantly, Frank was suicidal. He was a deeply religious person who believed that once he had lost his use and purpose in life, he should have been allowed to die with dignity.

Depression would cause Frank’s immune cells to stop functioning normally and increase his risk of infection. It could even increase his mortality rate after successful heart surgery. Large studies have revealed that pessimistic people’s worst fears often come true despite the medical facts, a frustrating reality for physicians.

I needed to search past high-tech solutions to save Frank and delve into the low-tech arena of love and faith. After brainstorming with my patient’s wife, we brought his minister to the hospital, who convinced Frank to make the church his life. He became a model patient and even began working as an evangelist for the Christian Motorcycle Association, helping gangs, because, in his words, “society has turned its back on them.”

Patients like Frank are not described in my medical textbooks, but I have learned much about healing from them. I entered medicine with the naïve belief that we knew most everything we needed to cure the sick and that high-technology solutions would close the few remaining gaps in our healing armamentarium. My specialty, heart surgery, was a spectacular example of this modern success story. After all, if the heart literally breaks, we can even replace it with a new one — the ultimate fix. But once I was on the inside of medicine looking out, I learned that there were many things left to discover.

I did not yet understand at a visceral level the poetic significance of this organ. When the heart fails, people feel betrayed. How could they be worthy of life if their own internal metronome has abandoned them? Even the immune response that their bodies create against the newly transplanted organs is called “rejection” — exactly how the patient feels.

But I soon began to understand that the answers to wellness frequently lay with my patients themselves. They willingly became our research laboratory. The results profoundly changed my views on healing and yield lessons for all America.

When people are desperately gripping the precipice of death, they look for any solution that can pull them back onto the safe plain of life. Many of these tools come from faraway lands, where they have provided a foundation of healing for millennia. Some call these approaches alternative, integrative or complementary medicine, but I believe that they all represent the globalization of health. Let’s take the best healing lessons from all our ancestors and societies and share the wisdom that, like our hearts, pounds life into our souls.

~Mehmet Oz, MD

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