Paul Biegler spent years as a trauma doctor, gaining valuable insight into how stress damages lives. Then somebody punched him.
The patient said he fell off a roof, but the nurses were onto it. They’d seen him before, when he’d rocked up to our emergency department a few weeks earlier angling, under false pretences, for a taste of our superior brand of painkiller. As the consultant physician, I naturally took charge and diplomatically, or so I thought, raised the possibility with him that his injuries were complete bullshit.
He answered me with a fist that rose, in a perfectly defined arc, from the opposite side of his bed, greeting my jaw with sufficient force to launch it, and me, onto the little old lady berthed in the next cubicle. When my lights switched back on he’d done a runner, and my resolve to exit the profession had ratcheted up several notches.
Trauma docs do not, of course, have a monopoly on stress. Most of us, at some time or other, weigh up suffering the slings and arrows versus slipping out the side door to a gentler life. New research is, however, upping the stakes on how we deal with stress, linking it to a bunch of seriously unpleasant diseases. And it seems both the cause and the answer to it all reside largely above our necks.
In 2016 George Slavich, a stress researcher at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), US, published a review article that, in otherwise plain academic prose, rounded to a startling conclusion. The mere perception of being overwhelmed by life’s demands switches on the body’s system for fighting infection and injury.
You can read my story about stress and getting decked in Cosmos magazine here