Psychosis after Open Heart Surgery: A Phenomenological Study

By Chessick, Richard D. Md, PhD | American Journal of Psychotherapy, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Psychosis after Open Heart Surgery: A Phenomenological Study


Chessick, Richard D. Md, PhD, American Journal of Psychotherapy


This brief self-reflective phenomenological study attempts to throw light on the inner mental processes that go on immediately following open heart surgery. The combination of organic assault, medication, post-traumatic stress, and psychological injury involved produces an abnormal mental state that can better be treated if it is understood from the point of view of the patient.

Phenomenology comes to understand the truth of something not simply by reference to scientific study and terminology but by moving around it, experiencing it from different perspectives, and letting the manifestations of each perspective communicate the truth of the subject directly. In order to be successful in the psychotherapy of patients with cardiac problems it is necessary for the therapist to have an empathic grasp of what they go through. Cardiologists often do not understand this, and psychotherapists can be of great help in treating the cardiac patient and educating cardiologists, if they are open to the phenomenologic method of approaching patients. As an illustration of this method for psychotherapists, I studied myself from a phenomenologic stance less than two weeks after undergoing cardiac surgery.

An evening in October, 1993: "My heart is in turmoil, and is never still; days of affliction come to meet me" (Job 30:27). Five times now in less than two weeks I have been in and out of atrial fibrillation, on the edge between life and death, and five times I had to go back to the hospital to the emergency room. Using verapamil and digoxin they were able to convert the fibrillation into a steady rhythm that enabled my life to go on. Last night was potentially the sixth time. I had eaten dinner and I was very scared, wondering if I was going to convert yet again into atrial fibrillation. I began reading an exceptionally interesting new novel called Gospel, by Wilton Barnhardt, describing the tracing of a lost gospel written during the time of the life of Jesus all over the Mediterranean and Africa, in a variety of localities that I have visited myself in the past. He writes:

And that's all that survives of you when you die, My child, the good that you have done. So much bad theology and empty talk about faith over works. Better the dispirited cynic complaining as she dishes free food in the soup kitchen than the pieties of cloistered prelates, theologians, purveyors of empty ritual, thesiswriters, makers of religious regulations.

I thought that I was reading the book. I thought that what was taking place was in Jerusalem as they were attempting to get hold of the missing scroll and to decipher the peculiar language of the scroll which up to that time no one had been able to understand. I thought I was reading and enjoying the novel. Suddenly the telephone rang and woke me up. It was a call from a friend of my daughter Brenda, telling her that she could indeed pick up Brenda at the airport on Wednesday, the day Brenda is leaving to return with my granddaughter from my home to her home in another city. Brenda, a coronary care nursing specialist, came to be with me during the surgery and has gone with me during each of these episodes of atrial fibrillation to the emergency room. She helped me to decide that it was time to go: my blood pressure was too low, the ventricles were beating irregularly, and it was too dangerous to stay home and not get the arrhythmia converted.

In my half-awake state a sudden thought occurred to me with a shock: What if during surgery some transformation in my body has taken place that no one understood until now. What if that surgeon, who had my heart in his hand when he did the surgery while my blood was shunted to a heart-lung machine, what if that surgeon had somehow removed my soul and the essence of my life, placing my soul into my new granddaughter, Brenda's baby, and making Brenda the essence of my life? In that case, when Brenda and her daughter will leave again for their home in another city, there would be nothing left of me but an empty shell, a body with no soul and with no essential life:

Surely now God has worn me out;

he has made desolate all my company. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Psychosis after Open Heart Surgery: A Phenomenological Study
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.