David Nelson Hand Surgery Greenbrae Marin hand specialist surgery of the hand orthopedics San Francisco



Contemplation – the finest preparation for Surgery

A patient's Experience of Surgery

This is an essay by one of my patients who used meditation to help prepare for surgery and to enhance his recovery. I asked him to share it with you, so that you might be able to use this technique to prepare for your surgery and recovery. - Dr. Nelson

On January 26, 2003, I had a small piece of a metal drill removed from my left wrist, at Marin General Hospital. It was a moody day: cloudy, sunny, dark and light.

I never imagined that I would experience six hours in a hospital and surgery as delightful. It was fun—and taught me a significant lesson about the power of mind. I took, a long walk before going to the hospital, and occasionally felt a little apprehension, but I would focus on an image of myself fully healed. There were many favorable factors. The surgery was minor. The surgeon was impeccable, and his instructions were reassuringly thorough. The nurses were gracious and kind, very comforting to be around. The hospital seemed to be having a quiet day. I asked a good friend to accompany me through the hospital procedures, and to make decisions, should anything happen to render me incapable. With all this said, I realize that I actually enjoyed, took pleasure, delighted in these few hours before, during, and after surgery, although I had been quite apprehensive in the days before. Looking back, it was a completely delightful, restful holiday. I recall more tension and distress from tooth cleaning.

In the pre-op station my friend helped me induce a deep state of relaxation and expectation of healing. I had learned that the way to draw towards me the outcome that I want is to expect it in a state of happiness and joy. My friend asked me to close my eyes and find a place in which I felt happy, relaxed, and at peace. I chose a wide valley with ruins of ancient temples in Greece, the sanctuary of Epidaurus. It could have been my back yard or any place. I happened to have visited that healing temple many times. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, smelled the little yellow chamomile flowers, admired the dark red poppies, the slabs of marble stone. I looked up at the bright blue sky, and imagined my wrist expanding until it was like a cloud filling the sky. I imagined it so vaporous that the knife would cut with little bleeding, and it would heal painlessly. (I don't quite remember walking into the operating room.) I gave thanks to the Creator for my life and for healing, and opened my eyes feeling cheerful, embraced by beauty, and at peace. To my surprise, I opened my eyes (I was in the operating room!), the surgery was almost over, and I was feeling curious, happy, and a little hungry. Once dismissed from the hospital, my friend and I went out to dinner and a movie—me holding my wrist up.

As I looked back on that day I wondered ,” Why didn’t I turn other tense and potentially stressful times into delightful experiences? “ Remembering the many hours of tension around a normal dentist visit, I realized I had forgotten to use the power of my mind, and needed surgery to remind me. Everyone can speed healing, reduce pain, and turn tension and stress into happy relaxation.

1. The first steps were to pick a surgeon in whom I had absolute confidence, and to understand his instructions. I felt very lucky to find Dr. Nelson, who had to push me to look at his website, and when I saw it, it told me how much he cares about his patients’ participation in their own recovery. This gave me confidence and trust.

2. The second step was my own intention to fully and quickly heal. I intended to engage all the forces that support my health and my happiness and not to get into worry.

3. I asked a good friend to accompany me for the day. I wanted to be sure that I was with someone who would not worry, or encourage my fears. I picked someone to who has a positive outlook, who reinforced my own optimistic attitude and who stayed on track with me to be sure I held steady , imaging the outcome I wanted.

4. We kept our focus. Even as you are traveling to the hospital, you can be setting your intention for this to be a good experience, with optimal healing. See yourself going through in a flowing, relaxed, and happy frame of mind. At each step in the hospital, repeat that image of yourself, easily, flowing through the procedures, happy, at peace, and knowing that you will heal fully and painlessly. You can enhance this feeling by imaging yourself to be as accepting as a small child, peaceful in its Creator’s arms.

5. It helps to say your intention aloud. I remember seeing myself dancing, gardening, playing tennis, and lifting weights. I said, “I intend to heal speedily, and fully, and there won’t be any pain at all.“ I couldn’t know that to be true, but I intended it, and did not let my mind linger on the “what if’s”. When I started to think about the possibility of cutting a nerve etc. I went back to my image of myself fully healed and active.

6. Extremely important to me were the visualizations my friend and I did, like the one that follows: Start by taking some long deep inhalations, breathing down to the bottom of your belly, and all the way out. Let the breath have a healing color, and see it entering and filling your torso, and leaving through your nostrils. When you can lie still without interruption for a few moments, imagine you are lying in some place, real or imaginary, where you feel safe, and very much at peace, a place that gives you joy and pleasure. Take time to make your surroundings aesthetically and sensually pleasing. See it, smell it, taste it, touch it, and sense every aspect of your surroundings as if you are really there. Now, in a relaxed position, quickly let any remaining tension drain out of your body, starting with your scalp, eyes, face and jaws, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, torso, hips legs and feet and toes. Look around at your pleasing surroundings, and add anything that would intensify your delight. Open your eyes, and still keep that place close by in your mind. Return to it and let yourself feel expanded, as if there were air between the molecules of your flesh. (If you never did visualization before, you might want to practice a few times before you go to the hospital.)

7. You can contemplate on a picture, or an object in the same way—First relax your body, which might mean tightening your scalp, your jaws, and your eyelids, then letting go, tightening your neck and shoulders and releasing. Tighten and let go of all but the affected part of your body. When you are relaxed, choose the object of contemplation. It can be any object, even a match stick. Or it can be a picture or beautiful stone, or art object. Just let your eyes gently move over it. Allow your mind to receive it, without thinking, or comparing, or naming. Just let your eyes caress the object. If your mind wanders, treat it like a child you love, gently bringing it back to looking at the object. If you get unusual images, just receive them and continue looking. You are allowing yourself to disconnect from the outside world, and receive more of the feelings and understandings you have in the core of your being. In your core there is no worry, or stress. As your eyes gently caress the object or picture you have chosen, your mind can relax and leave the surface of your life to visit your inner self. You can set your intention to remain calm, peaceful, happy, and trusting throughout your procedure. Healing comes from the same source that your life came from. You cannot will it, or heal by effort. But by your intention to heal, and by your level of calm, relaxation, you make yourself optimally available for healing. You are like a magnet, drawing from the universe, that which you are. Your happiness, and optimism will help you draw to you a happy outcome. Your pleasure will invite pleasure. Why not replace the stress with relaxation, and the anxiety with delight. We actually have that power. It is the capability of our mind. And what a more peaceful and pleasant world it could be if everyone gave up worrying about what they did not want to happen and instead focused on what would make them happy.

8. I thought that if I did this, my doctor and his staff would do the rest. And they did. The surprise was a rested, delighted feeling, like being on holiday.

I think that anyone who uses this approach will find that their experience of surgery is much less threatening and a better overall experience. It may not be for everyone, but if you try it, I am sure it will help. Your mind is connected to your body: just think of food and you salivate, just think of a scary situation and your heart beats faster. Why not harness this connection for your health? I had surgery myself in 2003: bilateral simultaneous carpal tunnel surgery. My technique was tailored for me, but had a lot of the elements of this approach. I can't call it a "holiday" exactly, but it was really a very pleasant experience. I don't want to do it again for fun, but I experienced it as very relaxing, and if I ever need to have surgery again, I will not look forward with any dread. ~ Dr. Nelson