How to begin healing before your surgery
by Karen Garloch, The Charlotte Observer
Monday, Aug. 31, 2009
Dr. Katherine Palmertree was anxious and worried as she faced surgery last spring.
As a physician at Carolinas Medical Center-University, she’s familiar with patients and medical settings. But she didn’t like the idea of “losing control.” And she knew from past surgery that she would likely experience nausea afterward.
Through her friend, Margaret Nunez, a hospital chaplain, Palmertree learned a mind-body technique that helped her relax and recover without nausea or other complications.
“My anxiety about being a patient was greatly reduced,” Palmertree said. “I was not just ready for the surgery, I was excited about it.”
The technique Nunez taught came from Peggy Huddleston, a Boston psychotherapist and author of “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster.”
Huddleston will speak about her methods Sept. 17 at a public forum at Carolinas Medical Center. Hers is the first of nine lectures in the Chaplain’s Grand Rounds series on “Mind Over Matter: Beliefs and the Body.” She’ll also lead a weekend workshop to train people to use her technique to prepare for surgery, lessen side effects of chemotherapy or reduce chronic pain.
Multiple studies have shown that surgery patients who follow Huddleston’s steps report less anxiety, use less pain medication, heal faster and leave the hospital sooner than patients who don’t.
When patients are relaxed, Huddleston said, their immune systems work better, they require less anesthesia and they “can get on with healing sooner… Our body’s ability to heal is so much more amazing than we even know.”
Today, her approach is recommended in hospitals across the country, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and NYU Medical Center in New York.
It is offered to patients at hospitals in Carolinas HealthCare System on request. But after Huddleston’s training session this month, Nunez said all patients undergoing surgery at CMC-University will be offered the technique. Other CHS hospitals may follow suit.
Nunez used the technique herself when she had surgery in 2002. “I had no nausea. Used very little pain medication. I was up walking the next day. People were amazed.”
Here are the steps.
In the weeks before surgery, patients learn to relax deeply and visualize a positive healing experience by listening to Huddleston’s 20-minute relaxation CD. (www.healfaster.com; book, CD package is $34.90).
On the day of surgery, patients ask friends and family members to “wrap them in a blanket of love for a half hour before the surgery,” Huddleston said. Nunez did that and said: “I know you can feel it because I felt it. Just this wonderful sense of warmth.”
Finally, patients ask their doctors or nurses to read “healing statements” the patients have written about what they want to happen. The first are read before patients go under anesthesia, when they’re in a “highly suggestive state,” Huddleston said.
For example, Palmertree’s nurse anesthetist read: “You will remain asleep during the entire surgery. You’ll be comfortable. Everybody here is working as a team, and we’ll be taking good care of you.”
Then, near the end of the surgery, Palmertree’s nurse anesthetist read: “You’re not going to have any nausea. Your pain is going to be well-controlled, and you’re going to feel like getting up and moving around.”
Palmertree was out of recovery in two or three hours and walking the same day. “I didn’t have a bit of nausea,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of pain… I was very pleased.”