Ellen Langer

Gaining Control ·

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Listen to Counterclockwise

In the New York Times of Sunday, June 20, there’s a story about how one hospital botched 65 of 92 prostate cancer treatments. There’s a strange upside to stories like these. People who read or hear about them are likely to become less trusting of the medical world when it comes to their own health. I’m not suggesting that in general doctors, nurses and their staff are in any way incompetent or ill intended. It’s just that we know more about our health—or at least should know—then anyone else and so it makes no sense to turn over complete control to anyone else.

As I wrote in Counterclockwise, I remember being stunned when my mother found out she had breast cancer and asked me if she were going to die. Asking questions like these of others highlights our mindless acceptance of expertise. Experts no matter how smart and well meaning can only know so much. We need to take back control of our health. I describe several ways to do this but this is only a tease so I want go into any particulars now. The first step, however, is to admit that we are not helpless over our diseases.