A prescription of kindness

Hand hold little heart meaning feel love with green nature bokeh background.
image: iStock / Getty

I noticed over the past year that kindness and compassion can matter just as much as a prescription or medical treatment given.

My Dad passed away recently following a brain tumour. I enjoyed many times with him, but I will always remember the times I went with him when he received his treatment.

Afterwards, he would be feeling positive and upbeat all through the 45-minute drive home. His mood wasn’t due to the satisfaction of having received his treatment, though, and the hope it offered him, but due to the empathy, compassion and kindness shown by the doctors and nurses who treated him.

It gave him a well-needed emotional boost that facing a difficult prognosis often deprives one of.

I will of course always remember many of the other moments I spent with Dad; going for a walk along some of his favourite routes (he usually walked around 30-40 miles a week), laughter with family when he told funny stories, and many more, but his hospital treatment sticks in my mind.

It’s because although I’ve written about and spoken about kindness in different ways for years, it just never occurred to me that a person could sometimes get more – emotionally – from kindness shown by carers than from the physical treatment itself.

Of course, this is not to minimise medical treatments. They matter hugely. Some treatments save lives. I don’t mean it in the direct comparison sense in terms of pathology. The point I wish to get across is that the boost we get from empathy, compassion, and kindness treats the mental and emotional wounds that very often accompany physical ones. Medical treatment tends to focus on the physical elements.

Now I think about it, it makes so much sense. I remember one of my nephews as a young child hurting his finger when he jammed it in a door. My Mum, his Gran, put a plaster on his finger (even though there was no blood), and it took most of his pain away. He felt comforted. It was partly the seeming treatment, but more the care shown by his Gran as she tended him.

Most of us seek emotional comfort when we’re hurt, even when the wounds are physical. A doctor friend once told me that many patients just want to talk and that letting them speak can sometimes be a treatment in itself that has a positive knock-on effect on whichever physical symptom they’re carrying.

It’s human nature. We’re wired for connection. When we have it, when someone shows love, kindness, empathy, compassion, we feel a deep satisfaction. Like the world has been put right. In turn, nature rewards us so that our internal systems work more optimally. 

This is why studies have revealed that that when doctors show empathy for their patients, the patients recover faster or have better outcomes.

For example, when patients who had visited their doctor’s surgery for symptoms of the cold had been asked to rate their doctors’ empathy level, those who rated their doctor as 10/10 recovered faster, had lower cold severity, and higher neutrophil count (immune system) than those who gave their doctor a lower score. 

Similarly, in a study of 175 prostate cancer patients, those who were treated with high-empathy doctors had higher levels of NK (natural killer) cells in their blood and these increased significantly over a three-month period compared with those who were treated with lower-empathy doctors.

In reviewing the published studies on the role of empathy and patient satisfaction, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands stated that, ‘empathy in the patient-physician communication in general practice is of unquestionable importance’. They also wrote that empathy lowers anxiety and distress levels in patients and that it delivers ‘significantly better clinical outcomes.

Love, empathy, compassion, kindness. They’re similar, part of the same family. They nourish the needs of the emotional heart. Giving, receiving, or even witnessing them feed us in this way and, in turn, our physical systems receive a boost.

When volunteers were once asked to watch a video of Mother Theresa caring for homeless people on the streets of Calcutta (Kolkata), levels of an important immune system antibody (sIgA) increased by around 50%.

And in a study of couples that compared how much warm emotional contact they had, which is a measure of kindness in some ways, those who enjoyed most warm emotional contact had lowest blood pressure.

All of this reminds me of something I once read, that a doctor of 30 years practicing medicine once told a patient, that the best medicine for what ails the human creature is love.

“What if it doesn’t work?” asked the patient.

“Then double the dose” replied the doctor.

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  1. Sans on December 4, 2022 at 11:19 am

    I am sorry for your loss; thank you for sharing this. It’s interesting how living through the experience of those we love can open another, often more profound, understanding of human needs.

  2. June on December 4, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    Your words are always appreciated and it warms my heart to read them.
    Many years ago I sat in one of your events at the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds called Quantum Field Healing. I bought your book along with the CD. Then gave them to someone who needed it more than myself. I still have my copy of the CD, which I use when needed.
    Showing compassion and human love to another enriches our soul as it stimulates within us that loving kindness of another soul who is suffering.
    Bless you for your words, they always make me think and reflect.

  3. Susan Hoskins on December 4, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    Love is what makes the world go round as the saying goes, so very true it’s something we all need and it makes us feel good.

  4. Helen on December 4, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    So sorry to hear that you have lost your dad a very sad time for you. I still miss my dad every day and he’s gone 30 yrs. love reading your blogs find them very comforting. Look after yourself. I recently left my husband of 46 yrs and trying to get used to being on my own. What I didn’t realise that for a lot of those years he didn’t treat me right and I had become so used to the way he spoke to me and treated me I thought it was acceptable. I have been treated for depression and anxiety for most of my adult life now I’m wondering if he could have been the cause of how I’ve felt for all those years. Sorry I’ve rambled on just feels good to get it out. Look after your mum she will need you.

  5. Kim Keyes on December 4, 2022 at 3:49 pm

    I am sorry for your loss David. I bet your Dad gave out lots of kindness as much as he received it.
    I so agree that empathy, kindness and compassion can go a long way to better clinical outcomes. When i had breast cancer 10 years ago i received so much care from doctors and nurses that it helped me cope better with my treatment. Thank you for sharing

  6. Gus on December 4, 2022 at 4:54 pm

    Doc, I am so sorry to hear of your father’s passing. HE will live on in your heart and mind, becoming more alive and flaw-free as the years march on. The prescription is wonderful and I will pass it along. Happy holidays!

  7. Oriole Hall on December 4, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    Thank you David, I lost my beloved partner, Claire to a brain tumour 5 weeks ago and your articles have been so helpful. The kindness, compassion and tenderness of the staff to her, her son and myself gave us all so much of a lift and enabled her son and me to cope with the process of her dying/

    • David Hamilton on December 8, 2022 at 12:31 pm

      I am so deeply sorry that you lost your partner. My sincere condolences to you! It’s nice that the staff were so nice to her, her son, and yourself. I found it helped me cope better too. Sending you hugs.

  8. Lisa on December 5, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss David. My Dad is in a care home now and thrives with dementia because of the kindness and good humour of his carers. I totally get this.

  9. Mary McManus on December 6, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    It’s beautiful how you walk through the grief by sharing special moments with your dad and reflecting on what you observed about the truths you’ve been teaching through the years reflecting on the journey you took with your dad. All love to you and yours.

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