A help for the healing before the surgery starts

globeSeptember 29, 1996
“A help for the healing before the surgery starts”

By Amy Sessler

Lynn – Patricia Fannon’s hip replacement surgery was supposed to require a 2 1/2-week stay in a rehabilitation hospital, but Fannon went home Wednesday — a week early.

The reason for her short stay? Fannon, 68, of Lynn says it’s all in the preparation. Before surgery, she attended a workshop at AtlantiCare Medical Center by Peggy Huddleston, based on her new book, “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide of Mind-Body Techniques.”

The workshop, book and tape gave Fannon ways to help reduce her anxiety before the surgery, reduce the amount of pain medication she needed after surgery and shorten her hospital stay.

“I’d recommend this workshop to others and I’d go through it again myself,” said Fannon, who had her surgery at the North Shore Medical Center in Salem on Sept. 17, and also spent some time in rehabilitation at Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital. “I was not the least bit nervous.”

Natalie Femino, 45, of Salem had a similar experience. She read the book to prepare for a Sept. 18 surgery at Beverly Hospital. She followed the book’s suggestions and found they helped.

“It gave me good, concrete suggestions, a lot of which I followed to prepare for the surgery,” Femino said. “Everyone has been amazed by my recovery process.”

Huddleston’s philosophy is that people who tense up before surgery and enter it in a terrified state compromise their body’s power to heal. By contrast, people who prepare for surgery “can create the biochemistry of healing,” causing their brains to produce chemicals that can in turn strengthen the immune systems, Huddleston said.

Much of the information in Huddleston’s book is backed by medical studies that show relaxation techniques can help.

Femino said that some people she spoke to were skeptical of Huddleston’s recommendations and preferred to rely on a purely medical model of healing. But she added that there was “nothing in this book that can hurt.”

Huddleston says the workshops and the book give people a feeling that they are in control of what happens to them.

“The key is to show people how they can participate in their own healing,” she said.

In her book, workshops and tape, Huddleston guides people through a five-step process. She asks patients to relax by thinking of a person or pet who is easy to love and then by recalling a specific time they felt a great deal of love.

Patients are asked to visualize their own healing in several ways:

By describing how they want to feel immediately after surgery to a friend;
By imagining an activity they can enjoy as a result of the surgery;
By imagining that other aspects of their lives that need attention are healed.
She encourages patients to have their friends and family think about them and “surround you in a purple blanket of love” about a half-hour before the surgery.

She encourages patients to meet with their anesthesiologist and to have the doctor read a series of healing statements during the surgery. There is evidence, she says, that unconscious patients can hear comments in the operating room, even if they will not be able to remember what is said.

Femino said it was comforting to go into surgery “knowing the people who cared for me were sending me prayers and positive thoughts. It definitely helped me allay some of my fears and concerns.”

Another patient, Maureen Kaper, 32, of Reading, attended the workshop before having plastic surgery at Salem Hospital to remove scarring caused by acne.

“My doctor told me that postoperatively, it is very painful and I was told to prepare for excruciating pain by people who have done it before, but I didn’t have any pain at all,” Kaper said. “The whole process helped my attitude going into it and it helped me heal better and quicker.”

For several years, AtlantiCare Medical Center has been dedicated to healing programs that combine traditional with alternative medicine. Programs in cardiac rehabilitation, for example, combine relaxation techniques, yoga and meditation. The center also built a “Healing Atrium,” a light, spacious room to house these types of programs.

In the past month, AtlantiCare has added Huddleston’s workshops to its healing programs, with three workshops a week for presurgical patients. The workshops are not limited to people having surgery at AtlantiCare and have attracted patients from Boston and from all of the north region.

As these patients have successful surgeries, many are talking to their physicians about expanding Huddleston’s programs. She is also involved in a medical study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that will look at the results obtained by men who prepare for prostate surgery. She is also developing a training program so others will learn to give the workshops.

Recently, three presurgical patients attended the session. They were awaiting operations at Union Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Annette DeMarco had noticed a workshop poster at AtlantiCare and bought the book and tape when she learned she needed kidney surgery.

Coincidentally, DeMarco’s mother, Mary Gautreau, 77, used the workshop to prepare for day surgery for cataracts and glaucoma. Gautreau said she felt relaxed going in. She said that undergoing similar surgery six years earlier, “I was much more nervous because I wasn’t prepared.”

“Peggy checked in with my mother and mom gave Peggy my name,” DeMarco said. Then Peggy called me. She even picked me up and drove me to the workshop. She made me feel very special.”

DeMarco has had a series of setbacks in her life recently and learning that she needed kidney surgery in the midst of another crises was not welcome news.

She attended the workshop to speed healing from surgery and to learn ways in which she could approach the issues in her life with less stress. When Huddleston asked how she pictured herself after surgery, DeMarco said, ” I don’t want to be a mother in a wheelchair with a bag.”

Huddleston gently noted the negativity of that image and helped DeMarco move past it to a more positive image of “leading a normal life.”

Margi Flint, 46, of Marblehead attended the workshop with her friend, Shannon Gamble, who accompanied her to the hospital on the day of surgery.

Flint, who teaches herbal medicine at Tufts Medical School, said a past surgical experience was not positive, and she believed another negative experience could be avoided with adequate preparation.

Dr. David Z. Greenseid, chairman of AtlantiCare’s department of ophthalmology, said that Mary Gautreau’s operation marked the first time he had been involved in a surgery where healing statements were read, but he believes that it helped his patient.

“She was certainly one of the more relaxed patients and she expressed to me that it was a tremendous help to her,” Greenseid said.

At the same time, Greenseid said that Huddleston had requested permission to speak to the department of ophthalmology about her work.

“I do plan to have her come speak to our department,” Greenseid said. “The experience with this patient gives me evidence that it is going to be helpful and other members of my department might find it of value for their patients as well.”