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Have you hugged your philodendron today?

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Riding a bicycle gives just the pace to cover the ground in a hurry, yet allows for leisurely visiting with joggers, porch-sitters, or passing motorists willing to pause a moment.( No, I no longer ride a bike, just one of the many losses this demon has cost me. I looked a long way back to find this contribution to the human condition, still relevant today.)

I was pedaling home from work, sifting among the dozen or so ideas competing for incarnation in print, when fellow-scribe Glen Allen waved and yanked his car to an abrupt halt along the edge of Willowbend.

We both began at once:

“Congratulations on your award!” says he.

“I was going to call you about your column!,” says I.

And so we swapped observations about the pleasure of seeing our words in print. Seems I’m not the only one on an ego trip, opening the paper each week first to my own name, delighting in how much better my thoughts look typeset, dismayed at the least error or omission.

But he of mule lore and midnight shift revelations confessed to a someday ambition of writing extended fiction, while for me, this column is its own reward. Absolutely lacking in imagination, I rely on fact and experience to provide a motif worth sharing..

So when Glen told me his recent tall tale about the watery demise of Ol’ Thunder had been credited with lifting the spirits of an ailing reader enough to start him on the road to recovery, I yelled, “That’s it!” Faith healing!” and pushed off through the woods to commit to paper an amazing story before the inspiration left me.

The story is the more startling  because it is from a report by Dr. Bernard Grad, a biologist who is an associate professor of psychiatry at  McGill University in Montreal.

Dr. Grad had  become interested in the subject of faith healing - really, the laying on of hands - when he met a Hungarian immigrant in 1957 who claimed to be able to convey a kind of healing energy by placing his hands on an afflicted part, and it was this energy theory which led to Dr. Grad’s interest as a scientist.

Now even the most skeptical experimenter would probably allow that people who want desperately to find something exhibit genuine improvement after contact with a person or process in which they believe. So, if the unnamed Hungarian really had a healing power, Dr. Grad reasoned that it would work equally well with the human factor removed.

The healer had had particular success, he claimed, in working with thyroid disorders. Since thyroid deficiency can easily be induced and measured in laboratory mice, the first experiment consisted of his holding the cages of sick mice twice a day. Those the Hungarian held had a significantly slower development of goiter than the mice in control groups. Similarly, it was found that he could accelerate measurably the healing of wounds in test mice.

A group of doubting medical students “competed” with the healer by using identical methods. However, not only did their mice not heal as fast as the Hungarian’s, they also healed more slowly than the untreated mice in the control group. No doubt their skepticism was “responsible,” reads the report, in the June 1980 “Mind and Medicine.”

Intrigued, Dr. Grad moved on to experiments with plants. His Hungarian healer could make test seeds grow faster and more abundantly by merely holding in  his hands beakers of water which were then used to water them.

Now the biologist was convinced that some unknown energy was at work. Conceivably a chemical from the healer’s hands could have been passed to the mice, but through a glass beaker through the water? Not possibly.

The most interesting plant experiments involved three people other than the Hungarian. As expected, Dr. Grad reports that a man with a “green thumb” who was in a good mood that day, did best. A full-time patient, a psychotic who was very anxious and depressed, never asked why he was to hold a bag with a bottle of water in it; his plants did worst.

But a woman suffering from depression did ask, and was told that the experimenters thought the water she was holding might  affect the way the plant would grow. She became interested, brightened, and when Dr. Grad returned for the water, “she was holding the bottle much like, I would say, she was holding a child or a doll...really giving to it. I think that had something to do with her plants growing better.”

If Glen’s mule-story had healing powers, try setting this one under your philodendron.

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