In our center, all patients are encouraged to listen via headphones to tapes playing the music of their choice or material we provide (Monroe Institute Binaural "Hemisync" Tapes, Faber, Virginia). Whichever option is selected, the
patient begins listening to the tapes from the time of the first visit to the physician's office, and similar tapes are played during surgery. There is strong evidence that patients are subconsciously aware of what happens during surgery; in our own clinic, we've discovered that we can condition patients to respond one way or another depending on what we've played for them in the operating room. As a side benefit, the audiotapes also allow patients to block out the disturbing "illness" noises of the operating room and the intensive care unit so they can stay focused on healing.
Preoperative hypnosis and meditation training can also help a patient feel more in control before, during, and after surgery. We did a study in which patients, selected blindly and randomly, were taught these techniques a few days before surgery. The patients who learned and practiced them needed less pain medication than those who refused the treatment--and, indeed, some need no pain medication at all after leaving the intensive care unit. Although the randomized trial showed no improvement in pain sensation overall, the hypnosis patients did report less anxiety.
All hospitals have psychiatry departments with staff members or psychologists trained in hypnosis, so you may want to ask for a referral. An informative book on this topic is written by Stanley Fisher, Ph.D., and is entitled Discovering the Power of Self-Hypnosis (Harper Collins, 1991).
Aromatherapy is one of the newer adjuncts to surgery, and one that many dismiss as somewhat frivolous. Yet the perfume industry has spent millions of dollars on scientific testing of smells and has amassed well-substantiated data showing that certain aromas, such as spicy ones, can make patients hypersensitive to pain, while others, such as flowery scents, dull the pain sensations. Already some American hospitals are using vanilla-scented oxygen in patients' nasal tubes, and more American medical centers are likely to join them as more of the European literature on this therapy appears in our medical journals. Aromatherapy can be hard to administer in a hospital setting, but once home, many patients find it helpful in reducing stress and improving sleep.
Massage therapy is an area for more systematic study, though the anecdotal evidence of its effects are persuasive. Sixty percent of treated patients believe they have gained an independent positive effect from massage in our clinic, aside from feeling "good" during the session. Only two percent say they felt worse. In some hospitals, massage is offered by staff practitioners, usually in half-hour or fullhour increments, and other hospitals will allow a massage therapist to visit an individual patient as an amenity. Even a nonprofessional massage by a family member can be helpful.
Reflexology, a technique concentrated on the feet and hands, attempts to affect internal organs by massaging the areas of the foot that correspond to as yet unmeasured "energy meridians." I am unaware of studies demonstrating the presence of these reflex relationships with the foot, but I do know that the density of nerve endings is higher in the extremities, making them especially sensitive to touch. I know of no risk from massage and have experimental evidence that lymphatic drainage is enhanced by rubbing the feet.
My favorite therapy is yoga, since it allows meditation in conjunction with physical activity. Meditation alone is difficult for many Westerners, so focusing on the breathing and body first in order to center the mind can be much more effective. Better yet, virtually all …