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Looking for 'There' There: Making sense of the claims for mind-body medicine

By Richard Handler

November/December 2008


The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine

Anne Harrington

W. W. Norton. 336 pp. ISBN: 978-0-393-06563-3

A centerpiece of Anne Harrington's The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine is a story from a 1957 psychiatric journal that radiates questions and puzzles. It concerns a certain "Mr. Wright," who had a diagnosis of lymphosarcoma—cancer of the lymph nodes. According to Harrington, "Tumors, some the size of oranges, infested his neck, groin and armpits." He'd ceased to respond to conventional therapies, but in the hospital, he'd learned of a new experimental drug called Krebiozen and was "persuaded that it would be his miracle cure." He begged his doctor for an injection, which was administered on a Friday. On Monday, the doctor was greeted by Mr. Wright "walking around the ward, chatting happily." The tumors had "melted like snow balls on a hot stove."

Was this surprising reversal due to the powerful new drug? Blind luck? A miracle?

Mr. Wright continued his stunning recovery until he read conflicting stories about Krebiozen's effectiveness in the newspaper. His confidence undermined, he relapsed, but his crafty doctor convinced him that the original injection had been defective, and administered another one. This time, however, it was distilled water. Thinking he'd gotten the real thing, Mr. Wright recovered even more dramatically than after the first injection. He was sent home, a "picture…

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