The Medical Consequences of Loneliness



To Joe, Jim, and Kathleen

in the hope that in their adult years

they will find lovers

as exquisite as their mother.

I was reading a book recently. And the dedication takes my breath away. The Broken Heart: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness. A book that speaks of our need for companionship.. and the price we pay when companions are nowhere to be seen.

And perhaps the sentence in the book that caught me most was this. That we help people to heal physically only to discharge them. Returning them to the very same circumstances that lead to the problem in the first place. And though the book examined this situation from the perspective of heart disease, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to the standard treatment of cancer.

And of course getting rid of the tumour is the priority. It goes without saying, doesn’t it. But what is the sense in returning someone to the very same environment that helped create it? And while some people would argue that cancer is just ‘unlucky’, others realise the part they play in the creation of environment in which cancer can flourish. Not that there is blame in this. Far from it. After all, it’s very natural for a person who is bereaved to experience a decrease in their immune function. Very natural for a person who is lonely to experience a drop in their ability to ward off disease. Not a conscious level decision. But a subconscious response to significant loss.

After all, we’re social beings, aren’t we. And I find it incredible that these things are glossed over. Given little, if any, consideration. And yet the research is there. And I have to ask… what point is there in helping someone heal their body, when we don’t help them to heal their pain…?

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