April 5, 2007
Loneliness and isolation seem almost endemic in the electronic age. We e-mail our friends for the sake of expedience instead of calling them on the phone. We send a text message to our children to find out when to expect them home. We settle for voicemail when we can’t reach a colleague or associate; why, we can even plan an entire client presentation without ever looking in our business partner’s eye. But at what price do we rely on all this electronic wizardry? What are we missing when we do what is expedient rather than what makes a real connection with another by putting us in verbal if not visual and physical contact?
Actual contact with another living, breathing being is known to heal. A pair of premature twins was placed in separate incubators, much to the chagrin of one highly intuitive nurse. One of the twins was not expected to survive. The nurse broke hospital rules and placed the babies side by side in one incubator. The healthier of the two preemies threw an arm over the other. Shortly thereafter, the smaller infant’s heart rate stabilized and her temperature rose to normal.
At the most basic level, we are designed to fall into synch or resonance with another. Some half century ago, a biology student extracted a cell from a live rodent’s heart and put it in solution to view it through a microscope. The single cell pulsed for a while and then fibrillated before it expired. Then two live heart cells were put on the slide and once one began to fibrillate they were moved closer together. The death spasm ceased and the two cells began pulsing together like a microscopic heart.
If your twin or matching heart cell is not around, a dog will do. Research has shown conclusively that pet ownership has many health benefits, from lowered blood pressure and increased immunity to helping troubled teens learn basic empathy. Dog owners live longer, and fare better after heart surgery. Pets love us no matter what. They provide companionship and unconditional love. In one study, having a pet affected patients’ survival rates even more than having a spouse or friends. Pet owners are known to have fewer visits to the doctor. Owning a pet can relieve loneliness, fight depression, and help us cope with stress.
Some old wives tales and common sayings turn out to be scientifically verifiable and based on fact: two really is better than one, and dog really is a man or woman’s best friend.