Going Under the Knife
I had the good fortune, a few years ago, to be a founding member of the Department of Complementary Medicine at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital under the auspices of Dr. Mehmet Oz. My job was to provide Hypnotherapy to patients prior to surgery to see if there would be measurable results in their surgical outcomes.
Of course, I wouldn’t be telling you this if we didn’t achieve measurable outcomes and had failed miserably. The fact is this: Hypnosis works. I saw it everyday in the patients I worked with. I became increasingly confident of the effectiveness of medical hypnosis with every passing day, which also increased my effectiveness as a hypnotherapist. It was a good cycle.
Then something unexpected happened.
I was a marathon runner at the time. Not world class or anything, but I took it seriously and was endeavoring to qualify for the Boston Marathon (a very challenging task). So one day I returned home from a 20 mile training run and discovered a strange bulge in my abdomen. It didn’t hurt but it was quite pronounced and definitely got my attention. So I did something I avoid as much as possible – I went to the doctor.
Upon examination the doctor told me I had an inguinal hernia. I asked what could I do about that. He said there were two options. I could have surgery to repair it soon, or I could surgery to repair it later. Gosh, doctors can be funny, can’t they?
So I figured, as long as I have to have the operation, I might as well make it interesting. To “put my money where my mouth was,” as they say. I proposed to some of my colleagues at the hospital that I get the operation done without anesthesia, but using hypnosis instead. Keep in mind, the Department of Complementary Medicine was NOT the “Department of ALTERNATIVE Medicine.” We offered things like hypnosis and massage as complements to their standard medical treatments. Here I was proposing something different. I wanted to use hypnosis as an alternative to chemical anesthesia.
Long story short – that is what we did. After a couple of preliminary hypnosis sessions with my colleague who would act as my guide, and after recording my own surgical hypnosis recording that I would listen to via headphones while in surgery, the day came for the procedure. (I am leaving out some side stories here that I may get back to at another time).
For me personally, the strategy was to simply be someplace else. I listened to the tape I’d recorded of a trance induction and ocean waves and sometimes listened to my colleague also, and imagined myself far, far away at a beach in Hawaii.
I had a teacher once who called it the Abbott and Costello approach.
(There is an Abbott and Costello routine from one of their movies where they play sailors on an aircraft carrier in the south pacific. Bud asked Lou to bet him that he could prove that he wasn’t there.
Lou: “That’s ridiculous. I can see you right here in front of me.”
Bud: “So bet me. I can prove I’m not here.”
Lou: “Alright fine, I’ll take your money. Prove to me you’re not here.”
Bud: “OK. Am I in San Francisco?”
Lou: “No. Obviously you are not in San Francisco.”
Bud: “Am I in Chicago?”
Lou: “No. You are not in Chicago. You’re right here in front of me.”
Bud: “OK. Well, if I am not in San Francisco and I am not in Chicago, then I must be someplace else. And if I am someplace else, then I’m not here, am I? Now, give me my money!”
Throughout most of the operation I was successful in staying far away. There were a few moments of being recalled back to the scene but I left again. I made the picture bigger and brighter and closer to me.(Again – some interesting side stories here I’ll tell you later.)
Also, interestingly, there was minimal bleeding throughout the surgery. I often said that to the patients I was giving suggestions to prior to their surgery. The surgical assistant told me afterward that they usually go through about four of those absorbent pads they put under the patient during surgery, but I only used the one they’d put down originally, and even it wasn’t much used.
So now I can truly tell you, having been there myself… Yes, Hypnosis DOES work.