Illness is Not Always Physical
A woman came to my clinic once with her sister and a village elder. She was suffering from an unknown illness with signs of high fever and fatigue, and she was unable to eat. Her husband was very worried for her. While our initial treatment was for an infectious disease, we realized more was going on over the course of her therapy. Soon we realized that she was grieving over the death of her adolescent son, who’d been lost to an explosion weeks earlier. Following the initial trauma of the incident, she continued to suffer from depression underneath her more apparent, external illness. Although we could continue treating her for her infectious condition, we realized that her emotional suffering was contributing to her failure to thrive.
There are few losses more egregious than a parent losing a child to violence. But many issues can be debilitating for any of us, as well as our patients. Mental, emotional, and spiritual health can all influence our physical well-being. This is common sense for anyone who has been nursed from sickness or injury by a loved one. We may encounter people in our lives who are dealing with visible problems, and we may make an effort to understand those issues. But understanding the more subtle underlying effects of grief and emotional distress may also be necessary to helping others return to a physiological balance.