Provocation Paper 2 Salon 1

The Power of the Mind and Touch

The Power of the Mind

One of the things that unites our two guests for the Salon is the power of the mind.  Baroness Professor Ilora Finlay is a renowned expert in Palliative Care who has developed a programme designed to enable people with chronic pain to take control of their pain management. The programme teaches techniques to use alongside or in place of traditional drug treatment.

The programme is also offered to patients when drug therapies have been exhausted – I know this from personal experience. When the Consultants dealing with my Multiple Sclerosis could not resolve the ongoing chronic pain I was experiencing they referred me to this programme.  I confess my experience of this referral was this was the only way to get this awkward woman out of their hair! Articulate intelligent patients are quite frankly a pain in the proverbial backside! As a younger generation of doctors come through the patient experience is changing thankfully.

There is a huge body of research and self help manuals that all put the focus back on the individual – it seems that everything is our responsibility these days!  But perhaps this is quite right? People with a natural inclination to have a positive mental attitude tend to fare better in life. It seems that I am one of these people which is curious to me as it wouldn’t occur to me to live my life in any other way. A friend a few years ago suddenly got taken into hospital with previously undiagnosed heart problems and ended up having a quadruple bypass. I was touched (and a little amused/bemused) when he said he thought to himself ‘if Fran can deal with what she deals with then I can get through this’. He said I had inspired him to adopt a positive attitude towards his recovery.  So perhaps the power of the mind can be provoked into action.

Some of you will know that I was born and brought up in Malawi, a small country in Africa that has recently come to the world’s attention for two reasons. Initially Madonna adopted a child from Malawi and invested money in the establishment of a centre for orphaned children. Her fund Raising Malawi is controversial as it has (an underlying but not explicit) Kabala ethos. More recently Malawi was the country that sentenced two gay men to 14 years in prison for openly celebrating their civil partnership – the sentence was quashed last week when coincidently the UN representative was visiting.

My father employed a houseboy when he was first in Malawi in the mid 1960s. The employment came with the house he rented. Unaccustomed to this arrangement my father paid for his education too as this was the right thing to do in the view of my very honourable parent. One day the boy disappeared and days later was found dead in the bush a few miles from the house. My father was upset and went to great lengths to find out what had happened to a healthy young man. My father had the boy examined and there was no obvious reason for his death.

What he discovered was that the boy had been to see the Witch Doctor in the village he came from. The Witch Doctor told him he was going to die (I don’t remember why he was told this). The boy, believing what this man in a traditional position of power had told him, went to the bush and died. The point of this story is that the boy believed he was going to die and that this was inevitable.

Traditional tribal beliefs are still strong in Malawi and the recent response to the two gay men supports this. We have a different perspective believing in science and facts. The two perspectives conflict and sometimes cannot be reconciled. My difficulty is when the conflict results in individual human rights being threatened. Are we, as educated Westernised people, always right or is there an element of cultural arrogance?

As a child I went with my mother and grandmother to a healing and blessing service at the Anglican church we went to. Even at the age of 12 I could not understand why my educated mother believed that this could help with the rheumatoid arthritis that afflicted her. Was this approach a kind of insurance policy that could be justified alongside the drug therapies provided by the NHS? How many people still go to Lourdes seeking a similar miracle whilst returning home for chemotherapy?

The Importance and Impact of Touch

Our other guest is Dilys Price OBE the founder of the Touch Trust. Dilys developed her own programme of touch therapy designed particularly for people with profound disabilities. Dilys will explain how she developed her approach and the impact it has had on the people she has worked with.

Touch is an interesting area for me. Since I became ‘disabled’ it seems that touching me is acceptable even for people who don’t know me. Think about how many pregnant women find complete strangers reaching out to touch the swollen belly – usually accompanied by ‘ahh’ in an empathetic (if patronising) tone? So that covers ‘inappropriate’ touching – the moving from the private to the public sphere – there seems to be some circumstances when people feel it acceptable to literally reach out when they would never normally dream of doing the same to someone they don’t know. Or is this just me? Feel free to disagree!

In conclusion I remember my granny telling my brother and I that one of the worst things about getting old was that no one touched you anymore. She was referring to living alone and being widowed two things she was never comfortable with. The direct consequence was that my brother and I leapt to hug her every time we saw her! Given that she was a small woman and we were nearly a foot taller than her she may have lived to regret saying what she did but I somehow doubt it.

It made me think that people granny’s generation seldom chose to live alone; they lived at home with their parents and then got married. Women, spinsters, were considered sad even pathetic and treated (often) as victims to be pitied. But now there are more single people in society admittedly not always by choice. Living physically in isolation is not something we are designed for. Touch is important both physically and emotionally as no doubt Dilys will tell us.

 So these are some of the things we will explore in the Salon on Monday 7 June 2010 as well as less incisive topics including perhaps the most useful kitchen gadgets a reference to the must have knife sharpener purchased for me by my beloved father! (Reassuringly said item was ‘researched’ at Lakeland – all options closely scrutinised – and (as always) the deal was clinched at John Lewis (as we know reassuringly never undersold!!)

  The Contemporary Spinster, Frances Medley, sympathetically (and uncannily accurately) captured by Roy Campbell Moore (2010)


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