Donna Quesada: That’s a beautiful story. Something I have notice in researching you and your work… You’ve had such a beautiful career and that is because you want to heal people.
And you understand that healing involves not just the body, but the body, mind and the spirit, and especially, they heart.
Bernie Siegle M.D: What turned my life around was a patient of mine had a workshop… I thought was basically for doctors run by another physician on cancer and imagery and things. I was the only doctor in the room of 150 people. That blew my mind. Not another doctor from Connecticut went. That’s how bad medicine is. The room was filled with people. What changed me was my patient saying, “you are a nice guy. I feel better when I’m in the office with you. But I can’t take you home with me. So, I need to learn how to live between office visits.” Also, one of my partners was very intuitive. The workshop was over the weekend. I came back to the office on Monday. I walk in the door and he said, “you’re gone.” I said, “what the hell are you talking about?” He said, “you are not the same person who was here on Friday.”
There is an intuitive guy, too. It was Dr. Richard Selzer. He has also written books. A very interesting fellow. And he was my teacher, too. But I just thought, “you’re nuts, what’s different about me?” We started the ECAPS. The exceptional cancer patient support groups. That’s where I learned more about patients, too. We send a hundred letters to our patients with cancer. The secretary was supposed to put in the letter that it was only for patients from our office. This is not for your relatives and friends. She forgot. I thought, oh my God. It went to 300 people. 500 people. What am I going to do? 12 women showed up in response to 100 letters. That’s when I realized… You don’t know the people you are taking care of. You don’t know their desires. And again, a lot of it is related to childhood. If I go to the meeting and don’t get better, I have failed. This is a quote from a woman: “My mother’s words were eating away at me and maybe gave me cancer. She dressed me in dark clothes, so no one would notice me, and told me I was a failure and embarrassed her.”
So, if you said to that woman, “draw a picture, come to a meeting.” She’s afraid… she won’t do it, right? See? Look what her mother said to her. But, that woman was different. I met her and she said, “you gave me the permission to become my authentic self.” But I did say to her, “you didn’t need my permission.”
DONNA: It was always there. Do you think that doctors thought of themselves as healers in the past? And if so, when did they lose touch with their role?
BERNIE: It became mechanical. Look at medical ads. I’m depressed. I went to see my physician. He prescribed an Anti-Depressant. I feel better now. I wrote to the company. I said, “couldn’t you put in a line that says that ‘my husband died and I’m feeling depressed?’” And the doctor says, “let’s sit and talk and I’ll give you this medication.” They never answered me. So again, it’s like Jung said… “your depressed. Here’s something for depression.” “You have a headache? Here’s something for your head.” Why don’t we say to the people “what are you going through? What’s happening?”
In poetry, I always say, “read fiction to learn the truth.” W.H. Auden… he wrote a poem called MSG. In it, a doctor comes home after seeing a woman in the office and he says to his wife, “cancer is a funny thing… childless woman get it and men, when they retire. It’s as if there needed to be an outlet for their full creative fire.” I recited his poem at a medical meeting and a doctor in the audience said, “just because its rhymes, don’t make it true. His mind is so closed but it is true.
DONNA: Your story about the woman and the way she grew up without that sense of self love and how it made her literally sick… Is that what you meant when you said… I don’t remember where I read it… one of your quotes is that, “your beliefs become your biology.”
BERNIE: That’s right. Yeah. That’s why, again, Monday mornings are a problem. I’ve got a lousy job. I hate going here. What does your body do for you? It gets you sick or ends your life and you don’t have to go to work anymore. All these things, when you have no self worth, no self-esteem… A better way of saying it, so people understand… There was a student, years ago, at the University of South Florida. He said to his professor, “I want to do a study. You know, like what Siegal is talking about. I will give them a script. These are actors, not people going through it. One of them will be a comedy. And the other will be a tragedy where a man has murdered her husband and they meet. The professor thought he was nuts. What’s it going to do if they are acting? But he gave him permission, thank God, to do it. And he did it. The people in the comedy… their immune function went up, hormone levels went down. The people in the tragedy had the opposite effect. And that impressed me, too. They are all acting. And I get a kick out of watching Broadway in the winter. Or what play they are in. Because if you are in Death of a Salesman during the winter, you don’t make it. You get a bad cold. You get the flu. This really happened. I can’t remember all the names of the actors. But when you are in a Mel Brooks play. You don’t have a problem. And if you leave it for six months. You come back because it was so much fun. You’ve got time now. And let me tell you, I’ve got to tell you something about Mel Brooks. He went in…
DONNA: I love Mel Brooks.
BERNIE: Yeah. Heller wrote a book about this. He said, “I was in the hospital with a neurological disease. Paralyzed. Mel Brooks came into my room and said, “in the name of Jesus, stand and walk.” It didn’t work and Mel Brooks said, “it was worth a try.” My sense of humor… I had to write Mel Brooks. I write Mel Brooks. I don’t know how I got his address. I said, “Mel, you said the wrong thing.” Next time say, “your sins are forgiven. And if you had, he would have gotten up and walked.” And Mel Brooks is a genuine person. He wrote back. He said, “thank you for straightening out the Jesus talk. Never again will I forget to say your sins are forgiven.” And he goes on and on. And the letter ends with “your sins are forgiven, Mel!”
BERNIE: We became friends after that.
DONNA: That’s lovely. Some of the other techniques you use, Dr. Bernie, are meditation and prayer…
DONNA: I think this is fascinating, and you were one of the first to use them in the medical setting. Can you explain how meditation works to help?
BERNIE: I’ll tell you what really got me started. Whether you call it meditation or hypnosis. It’s how you change yourself and your body. I did a lot of children’s surgery. And the children had faith in me. And sometimes though when I would start acting silly to get them to relax. They would say to their parents, “get me home…don’t let him operate on me!” Cause I would be acting so silly. “How can I trust him!” I let their parents know, too. If their parents told them something. Let’s give an example. You come home from the hospital. You’re nauseated. Here, this will take care of it. And you give your kid a vitamin pill. And they say, “thank you, I feel better now.” So, I would tell parents to do things like that. Get a bunch of vitamins and label it whatever your kid wants. Pain, vomiting, you know? And give it to them and it’s amazing the percentage that feel perfectly well.
But the thing that woke me up is that I’m in the emergency room with children who need surgery. And I would tell them what is going to happen. And when you get in the operating room you fall asleep. Now what does that mean to me? We are going to anesthetize you. The kids got upstairs. We wheeled them in and they fell asleep lying on the stretcher. And everybody looks like, what’s going on? I said, “you’ll fall asleep when you go in the operating room.” So, then I began to say it to all the kids. And everybody would laugh when they got wheeled in because they were (asleep). It’s another one of Siegel’s patients.
One boy, though, started screaming. And I picked him up. He had appendicitis. I turned him back so I could get to his stomach. Cause he had flipped over and fell asleep on his stomach. And he said, “What are you doing?” “I’m turning you over so I can get your appendix out.” “You told me I’d sleep, and I sleep on my stomach.” I said, “I can’t get your appendix out from your back. You have to turn over.” So, he said, “alright, I’ll turn over.” He impressed me. How real it was for the kids. And I tell this to every nurse. If there is a nurse listening to this. Take the alcohol sponge before you put a needle in and tell the person. This is wonderful… these are new sponges. They now numb your skin as well as clean it. You’d say that is a lie. It isn’t for the patient, so you do that and they say… especially the kids… “oh, that’s so nice. Why don’t the other doctors do that?” I’d say, 80 to 90 percent of them have complete anesthetic from the sponge. And the others would say they felt it but it wasn’t the pain. You know what I mean?
DONNA: I know what you mean. It’s like, when people knock placebos but placebos are a legitimate form of healing. The power of the mind.
BERNIE: On my website, it’s deceiving people into health. I lie to people for their benefit.
BERNIE: It’s just amazing how powerful the mind is for your benefit as well. I mean…
DONNA: And is this where meditation comes in?
BERNIE: It’s not only that, it’s words. But, it becomes meditation because one of my friends was going to have prostate surgery. I said, “picture the blood leaving the area.” It will make the surgery easier. Now, he happened to tell his doctor that he was doing meditations. Picturing everything going well. No blood there. And after the surgery, the doctor said, “I couldn’t believe it. There was like no bleeding.” Now that’s somebody who believes in me and believes in the imagery and the meditation. But when a lady drew a picture of herself in the operating room as a black box lying alone on the operating table. I said, “don’t have surgery.” “Why not?” “Look what you are going though?” I said, “what you have to do is picture what you want to happen. Picture it as you desire it.” And then, three or four times a day, they do that.
A week later, she drew a gorgeous picture. It was a window with God’s Light. The room was filled with medical staff in nice healthy colors. Not in black. And that kind of thing, and she’s lying on the table with everybody there. And her family is outside waiting for her to come home. I said, “fine, don’t worry.” So, the nurses used to say to me at the hospital, “your patients are a problem.” “What is it?” “They are refusing pain medication.” I said, “did it ever occur to you that they are not in pain?” They look at me like, what, are you nuts? But, they learned it was true. These are people with major surgery, who had no pain and I always remember one lady that I operated on that day, sitting in the audience when I was giving a lecture that night. I said to her, “what the hell are you doing here?” She said, “the nurses said I am one of your crazy patients. So, they let me get dressed and come.” She said, “all the tubes are under my dress. Don’t worry.” What happened is they became Siegel’s crazy patients. But, because it was good for the patients… that was like a comic description of me and them.
And another story to share with you… because it’s two of them that are very important. One was a radiation therapist telling me he felt awful because there was no radioactive material in the machine. They had worked on it a month before and didn’t put it back. He just learns that because he was doing the monthly inspection. I said to him, “are you an idiot?” He said, “no, I’m not an idiot. What are you talking about?” I said, “why didn’t you know they weren’t being treated?” Because they all had side-effects of your treatment and tumors shrinking. Because they thought they were getting it. And he almost fainted. He said, “oh my God, you are right.” Because he was never taught about the power of the mind. For me, I knew what could happen. And then a radiation therapist called me to say, “I thought our machine was broken. This patient has no reaction to the radiation. Then I saw your name on the chart, so I know it’s one of your crazy patients.” So, I went in and said, “how come you don’t have any side effects with your treatment?” She said, “I get out of the way and let it go to my tumor.” That’s what changed doctors.
Another group… chemotherapy… a woman came up from Kentucky because the nurse’s aid was helping my father in law. He was quadriplegic. And she heard that this cousin had cancer, so she said, “come up here. Dr Siegel gets people well all the time.” ‘Cause her doctor said, “don’t even bother going to Duke to get treatment. You are going to be dead in a couple of months so what’s the point of being sick with all the treatments. Don’t bother.” So, she said, “come up here, Dr. Siegel gets people well all the time.” Turns out she had Leukemia. I said to her “I’m a surgeon. I don’t treat this, but I’ll get somebody to come in and take care of it for you.” And I gave her a hug and we sat on the bed together. And I called my Oncologist friend. I said, “will you come over and look at her and tell me what you think. I want to give her some treatment.” And he called me and said, “I agree with her doctor. She’s probably got a couple months to live. But I know you and your crazy patients, so I’ll give her hope.” Now, a year or two before, he told me I was nuts… that I might be making people worse by putting them in a group… that I wasn’t a psychiatrist… that I didn’t know what I was doing… But, he was honest enough to see what was happening. So, he said, “I know you and your crazy patients, so I’ll give her hope.” His first letter, “doing well.” By six weeks, “in complete remission.”
DONNA: I love it.
BERNIE: And she went home to drive her doctor crazy. “Go home, walk down the street, and up to him.” Because you are supposed to be dead.
DONNA: Well, you’ve said that one of the problems that we have in medicine is that we, the collective we, don’t study success. We just chalk it off to miracle. Cases like this might inspire the medical community to study…
BERNIE: A whole group of ecologists, who literally… when I started, the groups asked me to come to their office. I went thinking they were going to tell me I’m a wonderful doctor trying to help people. They were criticizing and yelling at me for being a total idiot. I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t know what I’m doing. They went on and on, yelling at me. And I was smiling because I was such an idiot. I thought I was going to be told I was a wonderful doctor. And they finally stopped yelling and said, “why are you smiling?” I said, “because I thought you were going to say what a wonderful doctor I was… not that I was the worst one in the world.” And then, they even smiled because it was so ridiculous. But they were honest enough to be willing to care for these people. And not say, “Siegel, you are crazy, don’t send any of them over here.” And then, they saw the difference it made, in terms of their beliefs and everything else. And it impresses you how the skin gets red and even the tumor is shrinking and they are not being radiated. That’s why I learned to give people hope… to talk in that way to people. And we are not trained to talk, either.
Read and Watch Part III Here: Awaken Interviews Bernie Siegel, M.D. Pt 3 – No Beginnings, No Endings. We are immortal!
Read and Watch Part I Here: Awaken Interviews Dr. Bernie Siegel, M.D. – Love Warrior