Mind Over Matter, Use Your Brain to Ease Your Pain
Home  |  About  |  Sessions  |  IBS  |  Self-Help  |  Articles   |  Audio  |  Contact  |  Links

pacifica tribune

Successful Surgery

By Susan Bishop

Have you ever had surgery? Do you know anyone who has? In 1996 an estimated 30.5 million people underwent inpatient surgical procedures. Since the estimated U. S. population is 272 million, that means that in 1996, in that year alone, approximately 1 in 9 Americans underwent surgery. I doubt that that number has gone down in the last three years. Therefore, it seems a pretty safe bet that sometime in your life, you, or someone you love, is going to need surgery. That to me is an amazing statistic. Since surgery seems to be the norm, and not the exception, what can we do to prepare ourselves for this intense life event?

Let's pretend that not only are you preparing for surgery, but that you're going to have the best possible outcome from this.

  • What would this look like for you?
  • Would you be a participating member of your health care team?
  • Would your opinion matter as much as your surgeon's?
  • Would you be well informed about your risks, benefits and alternatives?
  • Or would you rather put your faith in a well-chosen doctor, and let her work out the details?
  • Would you like to feel calm and confident before your procedure, sleeping well all night and awakening rested and ready?
  • How would you like to recover?
  • Would you like to bounce back rapidly, or would you rather take time to rest and heal gently and steadily?
  • Would you like to be able to minimize your swelling, inflammation, pain and discomfort?

With the wonders of modern medicine at your disposal, the support of complementary medicine and the power of your mind, it may be possible to prepare yourself to experience the challenge of surgery in the way you choose.

That may seem difficult to imagine. How can you choose how your response to such a major event as surgery? As we have discussed in previous columns, what happens in your mind affects what happens in your body, and what happens in your body affects what happens in your mind. So take a minute to consider some of the things that come to mind when you think about surgery. What do you think about? Some people think about fear - fear of what may happen, fear about how you're going to feel, maybe even fear of your own mortality. Other people may think about losing control, about being taken care of by others, about not being able to do what they want, when they want. Other people may have already had surgery, or known others who have, and remember and identify with what they have experienced and heard. What is important to understand is that expectation affects experience. What you think does have an influence on what does happen. Obviously, this doesn't mean just crossing your fingers for luck and wishing real hard (unless that works for you). It means figuring out what you personally need to feel comfortable and prepared for whatever may happen.

What you do to get yourself prepared and comfortable varies with each individual person. One of the important things that may help is communication. Do you have all the information you need? Do you wish to explore alternatives? Do you feel that your doctor understands what is important to you? Are your friends and family available and aware of your needs? If there is anything you want to say, or anyone you want to speak with, do it. Your doctor or nurse is probably very busy. You may not want to take their time, or feel foolish for asking a question or making a request. Make a list of all your questions and concerns. It may help to practice a little constructive selfishness. You are the important one here. You have the right to take all the time you need to make your own decisions.

Another important step in pre-surgical preparation is to arrange your support system. Our society encourages rugged individualism. You may enjoy feeling strong and independent. I know I do. I enjoy feeling strong and independent so much that many years ago, before I was a hypnotherapist, I needed to have a minor, outpatient procedure performed. Since I knew that I couldn't drive after the procedure, I planned on taking the bus to the hospital, and taking a cab home. I was quite surprised when my doctor did not think that that was a good idea. After the reality of the surgery, I was very grateful that not only was my husband available to take care of me immediately post-op, but also over the next two days. There are times when support is necessary. Think about what you're going to need and who is available to help you. You may not be able to drive for several weeks. You may not be able to lift anything over a certain weight for an extended period of time. Before you dismiss this concern, try weighing a bag of groceries. It may help to give you the space to heal comfortably if you've arranged in advance to have friends or family there to help you recover and to do the many little chores and details that pop up in daily life. This may be a good time to treat yourself. Consider hiring someone else to do yard work, house cleaning, or anything you'd like to release for a while.

Finally, it will probably be very helpful to remove any blocks to healing and ready your body to heal and recover. There are many ways to do this. You might try acupuncture to correct any imbalances. You might consult a nutritionist to see if there are any ways that you can support your body's healing. You may get a good massage to help yourself relax and rebalance. I work with hypnotherapy to help people prepare for a positive surgical experience.

There are several ways that hypnotherapy can help to prepare you for surgery. First, you can learn to go into a pleasant state of self hynosis and to block or manipulate unpleasant sensations. We have talked about pain management in previous columns. It can be helpful to learn to adjust sensations of pain, discomfort and nausea, so that, in conjunction with medication and other comfort measures, you can stay as comfortable as possible. By learning how to reach relaxation you may be able to minimize swelling and discomfort and require much less anesthesia or medication.

But perhaps even more importantly than keeping yourself comfortable, I have found that pre-surgical hypnosis can help you to remove blocks to your healing. People hold many things in their bodies. For example, whenever you feel tense or nervous, the muscles in your neck and shoulders will probably tighten and become rigid. You might say that you hold tension in your neck and shoulders. In the pleasant, relaxed state of hypnosis you may find that you hold other emotions elsewhere in your body. For example, I worked with a woman who held tension in her jaw, to the point that she was damaging her teeth. In hypnosis, we discovered that she was holding unspoken words and unexpressed emotion in her jaw. When she was able to release these words and emotions, her jaw relaxed. By learning how to release the tension and emotion you are holding in your body, you can allow your body to move, blood to flow, inflammation to decrease and healing to begin.

Finally, you can also use hypnotherapy to free yourself from fears and expectations. Did you know that a part of your mind remains aware, even under general anesthesia. You can be completely "out", but part of you remains vigilant, and hears what happens in the surgical suite. It has been documented many times that people can remember what they hear in surgery when they are in hypnosis. Therefore, it is possible that you could misinterpret something you overhear during surgery, and that can affect how well you do. Any medical procedure you have had, or heard someone else describe, is capable of leaving negative expectations. For example, you may believe you always get sick from anesthesia. You may have once received an anesthetic you reacted to and became nauseous. This does not necessarily mean that another anesthesia will have the same physical reaction, but if you have become conditioned to feel nausea, you probably will. Once your mind understands how the connection began, it can be released.