Designed by nature

The beautiful cannonball tree has many medicinal uses. Barbados, March 2010

“The marvelous pharmacy that was designed by nature and placed into our being by the universal architect produces most of the medicines we need.” Norman Cousins

One of the first things I did after Jeff got his stage IV cancer diagnosis was request that he read a book first published in 1979:  Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration by Norman Cousins.  I read this book decades ago, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it has been one of the biggest influences in my life.  In fact, it may be indirectly responsible for my decision to start this blog.

Cousins’ work, which has become a classic, deals with a variety of interesting considerations regarding health care and how we view disease.  I read the book long before I could have known how much of my life would be consumed with visiting doctors, staying in hospitals and otherwise managing the medical aspects of our younger son’s disabilities.  While none of the details of Cousins’ devastating diagnosis are related to Matt’s genetic condition or Jeff’s recent challenges, the underlying message of patient responsibility and empowerment has been crucial in navigating the often intimidating journey through serious and chronic illness.

Today it is not uncommon to find physicians and other medical professionals discussing and acknowledging the powerful medicinal benefits of such factors as creativity, laughter, holistic healing, and the placebo effect.  It was far less common when Cousins set out on his own largely self-designed and non-traditional path for battling his illness, emerging victorious and lighting the way for countless others to follow.

Today I hope we will resolve to work in harmony with the many providers and natural paths to wellness that are available to all of us.  If we tap into the amazing, God-given powers of mental, emotional and spiritual health to improve our physical health, we can greatly decrease our suffering and improve our quality of life, however long or short our time on earth may be.



  1. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia. Caring for patients in our office, whether prosthetic or orthotic needs, starts with an evaluation appointment. Although, the patient comes to us for a prescribed device, Bill wants to know the patient’s level of activity, expectations, willingness to comply, plus much more. We see many attitudes and various outcomes. I had never thought of patient responsibility as you have described it. It has always referred to (for obvious reasons) the financial responsibility of the patient after insurance pays. Wow! I’ll share this at our staff meeting today. Thank you for thoughts to ponder. Happy week, friends! Sheila

    • Thanks Sheila, I highly recommend Cousins’ book, and also this one. As people are more informed and have access to amazing resources like PubMed (formerly Medline, which used to cost hundreds of dollars per hour to search when I was in library school), it is only fitting that we take more responsibility for our own wellness. This is particularly true now that managed care means doctors have very little time with their patients. Attitude is so important in every aspect of life. Thanks for being here, and I hope you and Bill have a wonderful week!

  2. Mike Bertoglio

    I think I saw one of these trees at Bishop Botanical garden in Honolulu. Never seen anything like it. Actually look like 8 inch cannonballs growing right off the side of the tree bark. They had warning signs about watching for falling cannon ball pods. They weigh several pounds. Don’t remember seeing any flowers though.
    Hawaii, as you know, has a whole group of herbal healing doctors- l’au lapa’au – or something like that.
    I remember they pray to the plant and ask its permission before harvesting. Of course aloe is good for many things- including burns.

    • Yes Mike, those cannon ball trees are really unique. The thickets of curly branches are almost as interesting as the gorgeous flowers. Once when I burned my finger, a friend who had an aloe plant broke open one of the leaves (I seem to recall it was a succulent plant?) and put some of the liquid on my burn. The result was impressive. The herb I remember most from Hawaii is kava kava – very good for insomnia, as I recall. I think some Hawaiians smoke it.

  3. Beautiful said and so true. I think the Native Americans knew this. We’ve forgotten so many important things. It’s high time we start remembering again. Lovely post, lovely you.

    • Thanks so much, Alys! I agree that the Native Americans seemed far more connected to the earth, its seasons, cycles and beauty, than we are today. Hopefully many of us are waking up to some of the wisdom that has always been there for anyone who would become aware of it. I am so glad you like the post! Thanks for being here.

      • Julia, have you read 1000 White Women?

        • No, in fact I’ve never even heard of it — sounds interesting, to say the least! Is it a blog or a book?

          • I don’t know if you allow links in the comments, but here goes:


            It’s a book by Jim Fergus. You can read a couple of reviews on this amazon link. Loved it!

            • Aly, yes I LOVE links in the comments. That looks like my kind of book, thanks for sending the link!

              • You’re welcome. It’s one of those books that really stayed with me, too.

  4. MaryAnn

    Totally agree about recognizing that God has surrounded us with natural reliefs and He has provided the doctors, medical staff & medicines. I became more aware of this train of thought reading Dr. Weil, teaching about blended medicine.

    • I’ve never read one of his books, but I have seen excerpts of his work and he does seem to be very focused on holistic approaches to wellness. At the health care summit in 2009, someone correctly pointed out that most of what we call “health care” is really “illness care” — it would help us all to emphasize prevention more, I think.


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