Imagination as Another Doctor

7 October 2018

Inspired by the "Medical Realities" part of "TANWEEN"Workshops

How virtual reality helps in overcoming pain?

It’s common to find a large picture of a big sea, surrounded by sand, when waiting at a hospital or a private clinic, or to find a bright blue sky painted on parts of the ceiling, or to find walls covered with forest pattern wallpaper. Patients know that those visuals don’t make the place an actual sea or a forest, but they still allow their imaginations to drift away, because the effect of those imaginary thoughts and related emotions are the most important. Words like amusement, distraction and diversion are not always bad. Throughout history, humans found ways to overcome pain through diversion. That might even be an innate human reaction to pain, whether physical or psychological, and whether it is happening on a conscious or an unconscious level, as the body itself can sometimes turn to such a gimmick in the pursuit of resisting its suffering.

Video games programmers tend to use these diversion gimmicks for entertainment purposes, but those gimmicks have other, more important uses. An example of those uses is in the health sector. The one with the most impact is the virtual reality technology, which can transfer the user’s senses to an exquisite, parallel universe, and provide him with an imaginary experience that is almost real. The technology uses headsets that present the virtual reality visually and aurally; or manual devices that imitate the virtual experience through the touch.

Some hospitals have, recently, started providing their patients with gadgets that support this technology. When a patient is in pain, all he needs is a pair of glasses that will take him to another world, where he can forget his suffering. Patients on bed rest or on wheelchairs can become other, healthy, characters, that live in beautiful places, or practice fun activities, which they could never be, visit or do, if it wasn’t for this technology. They could go to imaginary places that never existed, away from the hospital’s environment, with all its mental and physical burdens, which gives them an energy boost, so they can come back stronger and more cooperative and responding to doctors and nurses’ advices and instructions. The technology has proven effective in decreasing signs of anxiety and panic, and even stopping pain completely in patients with more active imaginations. The Washington Post mentions a strange incident, where virtual reality glasses were used in delivery, for the first time. The mother had chosen to give birth naturally and without any anesthetics. When labor pains increased, she wore the glasses, which took a lot of her pain and concerns away, and transferred her senses away from the place around her, until she had her two babies.

The technology’s use is not limited to hospitals. It could be used in a person’s own bedroom -if he uses it the right way- or in the office, when he’s under a lot of stress. The technology could also help in de-stressing, distracting and immediate relaxing, so people can resume work with more energy and enthusiasm. As a large part of the modern man’s frustrations come from his inability to experience some things due to the lack of time or resources, this technology could give him a comforting alternative that betters his mental health; and, maybe, encourages him to try harder to experience it in reality. What truly matters is for us to remember that it is just a means not an end in itself, so it doesn’t turn to a tool for self-destruction or an addiction. Distraction should always be a way of getting stronger to face reality, and not to run from it.