Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression

Preparation for Injury & Disability

If you look into the mirror, and open your mouth, you will see your uvula, the conic projection from the posterior edge of the middle of the soft palate. It hangs there and is composed of connective tissue.

You learn early in life that it is supposed to be there. Someone, somewhere, at some time, told you what it was.

Many years ago, I had a friend who awakened, and while brushing his teeth, noticed his uvula. For reasons unclear, he had never noticed it before (which is difficult to imagine).

Upon noticing it, he became very anxious, quite fearful, called out to his wife that he had a cancerous growth in his mouth. She rushed into the bathroom, and he showed her this tumor.

She looked quizzically and stated that she could not see the tumor. He became even more agitated, and with his finger in his mouth, he stated “there…it’s right there!”

She looked bewildered and asked “is it near your uvula?”

He replied “my what?”

The reality is that people are more likely to be able to identify the State of Texas than they are the location of their own pancreas. Heart attack victims often believe that their chest pain is indigestion. Others believe that their panic attack is a major cardiac event.

If anger propels us, then fear paralyzes us. We are quite ineffective when we are frightened. We do not think clearly, rationally solve problems nor fully receive the information presented to us.

After injury, we are in pain. We may have only pain and/or we may have demonstrable physical changes as a result of injury.

If we are injured at work, we are whisked to an occupational medicine center or an emergency room where our most immediate needs (xray, lab studies…and drug testing) are met. We are treated and dispatched without a great deal of explanation as to why we hurt this badly and what the pain means.

Once at home, we are left to our own devices. We can reassure ourselves that this pain is part of injury and healing, or we can alarm ourselves with frightening images of inaccurate diagnosis and perceptions of inadequate or even inappropriate care.

Most often, patients do not reveal their misperceptions to the treating physician for fear of appearing ignorant or ungrateful. They do share these fears in psychological evaluation, at which time they list all of the irrational beliefs that have governed them in the many weeks

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