By David Servan-Shreiber, Ode Magazine
Surgery, the glory of Western medicine, is ultimately technological. Perfect sterility must preside; every move is calculated, codified and monitored by machines as efficient as they are relentless. Nevertheless, the achievements of the last 50 years—from microsurgery of the hand to heart transplants and hip replacements—have changed the patient into a passive object of scientific inquiry and the surgeon’s dexterity. Once patients have agreed to an operation, how can they conceive of themselves as active participants, especially when they experience surgery under general anesthesia?
Although that question seems absurd to the majority of surgeons—and patients—a revolution is underway. Scientific studies are beginning to show what some observers have long suspected: The patient’s attitude and mental preparation play a major role in the way the body responds to that “well-intentioned aggression” we call surgery.
Although we don’t yet know why this is so, it has now been demonstrated that explanations about the nature of the operation and about what the patient should expect reduce blood loss and complications during and after operations. Instruction in relaxation and training in hypnosis to condition the body’s response during the operation contribute to this effect, also reducing post-operative pain and even the length of hospital stays.
The most surprising impact of all has come from the hypnotic suggestions whispered via headphones to patients under anesthesia. A study has demonstrated that several days after an operation, nurses were able to identify 80 percent of the patients who had received this intervention—because they recovered more quickly and experienced less pain than those who had not.