Have you considered that surgery can be a powerful opportunity for healing? Before I ever had to consider it, I believed that having to get surgery meant I had failed to heal myself. When my first otolaryngolgist, who was about to celebrate his retirement, recommended surgery for what he believed to be nose polyps, I wrote him off as outdated & malinformed. Having never gotten major surgery before, I thought the clinical approach was invasive, risky & stressful. I decided to try every natural remedy in the book before trying the knife. I spent a considerable amount of time & resources on alternatives to mainstream treatment, deep down desperately wanting to prove to myself & my family that I could heal myself. I read stories of people curing themselves of nasal polyps with apple cider vinegar so I bought an extra bottle. I made an appointment with a physician at DC’s National Integrative Health Associates & started on a regimen of supplements & nasal irrigation. All the herbs, acupuncture & affirmations were certainly healing on many levels. I felt more energized, more confident. Yet a month later, I still couldn’t breathe from my right nostril.
It wasn’t until I landed in the ER & got the cancer diagnosis that I finally surrendered to the truth that I really did need surgery. I took a deep breath & accepted the fact that I would need the surgeon’s help to heal, but I did not want to be a passive victim while he did all the work, so I worked to figure out how I could still be a proactive participant in setting myself up for the best possible surgery experience.
Dr. Christiane Northrup offers ways to approach surgery as a healing ritual. The first step is renaming the experience to disassociate it from any negative feelings. She does this by referring to the experience as “creating health through surgery,” but you can use whatever words make you most comfortable. For example, if thinking about your upcoming surgical procedure makes you feel anxious, try calling it an in-patient procedure when you talk about it to others or to yourself. How about an initiation ceremony? Get really creative. When my fellow cancer survivor found out he had to undergo majorly risky surgery & would not be able to go to Las Vegas with friends, he told me, “I’m thinking of it as a gamble & I’m betting on myself.” In preparation for my own procedure, I decided to work with affirmations, so I began telling people I was “affirming health through surgery.” Then I followed the steps that Dr. Northrup outlines in her book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. I wrote my surgeon a note asking him to repeat the following affirmations to me as I was going under anesthesia:
During this surgery you will remain calm & responsive.
After the procedure is done, you will be able to breathe comfortably & will heal quickly & completely.
♥ (Repeat 3x)”
When he easily agreed, I felt supported & was able to surrender to the anesthesia peacefully. Thanks to the guidance she offered in her book & the steps I took, I ultimately had a positive & empowering surgery experience & was better able to ride the inevitable lows that came afterwards during recovery.
If affirmations aren’t for you, there are many other ways to help yourself:
REFRAME & REFOCUS
Scared of being in a hospital, but really like your surgeon? Focus on the fact that you have an important appointment with your doctor and that you will be in their sweet care. When you focus on the aspects of the situation that feel reassuring, you are better able to embrace the whole experience.
If you have any doubts whatsoever, go ahead and get a second opinion. It gives you time to think about your decision. It can also give you an opportunity to receive different perspectives and figure out what resonates for you. As Dr. Lissa Rankin demonstrates through her research for “Mind Over Medicine,” you have to believe in the healing capacity of your treatment in order to receive the full benefits. If you can’t accept the course of therapy one doctor recommends, talk to another one. You might find someone who suggests a slightly different way of handling the situation that is more aligned with your needs. All choices have pros & cons. No option is perfect. You have to be able to feel that the choice you make is the best one for your case.
As a doula, I’ve worked with various women who found out later in their pregnancy about breech or posterior presentation and tried holistic approaches to change their baby’s positioning; everything from acupuncture, chiropractic care, Spinning Babies techniques to visualizations and yoga to multiple external cephalic version (ECV) procedures to flip baby. Many times the attempts were successful & baby did flip into a better position, but many times they were not & the women were faced with the decision to schedule a cesarean. When hit with the realization that surgery might be best option, these women chose to find ways to take ownership of their experience. I worked with each of the women to clarify what they needed in order to accept & even embrace the surgery. Some were concerned about the correlation between cesareans and post-partum depression, so they invested in placenta encapsulation as an extra measure of prevention. Others were concerned that the cesarean would interfere with their ability to breastfeed, so they reached out to lactation consultants for in-house visits.
How can you set yourself up to have the best experience under your specific circumstances? What do you need in order to be able to fully accept and embrace your surgery? Maybe it’s knowing that friends & family will be there to help, so you ask someone to set up a calendar to ensure regular visits & support. Maybe it’s reaching out to people you trust who have had similar surgery before & asking for advice so you feel prepared. Take an action step that will help you move forward more confidently.
Another way of being proactive is educating yourself. Those who embark on the quest to gather information, seek professional opinions & check in with their own inner guidance system can approach their surgery from a a more knowledgeable, confident, relaxed state.
Meditate, get a massage, cry, journal, take a hot bath, drink calming tea, light candles, pray, talk to a loved one you trust or try deep, steady breathing, restorative yoga, self-hypnosis, reiki guided meditations; do whatever it is that will help you relax. Research has shown that engaging in relaxation exercises before, during & after surgery results in better outcomes & effectively reduces the need for pain medications & interventions.
TRUST & LET GO
After taking the steps you need to own & feel in control of your experience leading up to surgery, you have to trust & let go, knowing you did what you could to set yourself up for success. Surgery can offer an opportunity unlike any other to learn how to surrender into the care of others, such as the anestheseologists, surgeons, nurses & your loved ones.
Letting go of control was personally the hardest part for me. I realized that once I got wheeled into the operating room, whatever happened was be out of my hands. Fortunately, I felt comfortable with my surgeon, so I told him about my hesitation & he reassured me once again by drawing the straightest line I had ever seen right there in front of me. He said, “I’m really good at what I do. You have to trust me.” I knew he was right. I let out a deep sigh & silently called on his angels & mine for guidance & protection before I fell under.
If you have a hard time receiving support or letting go of control, take this opportunity to release the outworn beliefs that have informed those behavior patterns. As Dr. Northrup puts it, “Giving yourself permission to let another individual help you can be a profoundly healing experience.” She’s right. Open your heart. Take a deep breath. Trust & let go. It’ll be OK.
Do you have any tips on how to prepare yourself for an empowering & healing surgery experience? Let’s help each other out. Spread the wisdom, comment below!