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A Kinder, Gentler Surgical Ward

Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, NY
Patients undergoing heart surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York get the latest in high-tech care. But they're also offered more: The chance to complement their treatment with an array of nonmainstream therapies.

"We want patients to be part of the team, to play an active role in their treatment," says cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, who founded the program three years ago with surgical assistant Jery Whitworth. "Complementary medicine can assist in this goal. Surgery should be a growth experience, not just an obstacle to overcome."

Preparing for surgery
Beginning with the first office visit, all surgical candidates are encouraged to try
music therapy as a means of minimizing stress. The technique requires that patients set aside at least 15 minutes a day to listen to their favorite music through headphones. Columbia can also provide specially mastered recordings designed to stimulate brain waves and promote relaxation (the Monroe Institute's Binaural "Hemi-Sync" Tapes, 62 Roberts Mountain Road, Faber, VA 22938-2317; (804) 361-1252; www.monroe-inst.com/programs/hemi-sync.html).

Hypnosis and meditation training a few days before surgery can reduce anxiety and increase the patient's sense of control before, during, and after the operation. A staff hypnotherapist leads the patient through progressively deeper stages of relaxation and makes such suggestions as "You will feel very little pain after the operation" or "You will have a fast recovery." A good book on the subject is Discovering the Power of Self-Hypnosis by Stanley Fisher, Ph.D. (HarperCollins, 1991).

Massage. Most patients find that its stress-relieving benefits last beyond the half-hour or hour-long session. Reflexology, or massage of specific points on the feet or hands, is a good alternative for those who can't get body massages for medical reasons. The hands and feet are rich in nerve endings, and rubbing them fosters drainage of lymphatic fluids. According to Eastern beliefs, reflexology promotes energy flow and stimulates healing of internal organs.

During the operation
Studies are beginning to confirm that patients are subconsciously aware of what's going on around them when under general anesthesia. Listening to music through headphones is highly recommended during the operation and in the recovery room. It not only promotes relaxation but helps filter out the disturbing noises of the operating room and ICU.

Patients may also request therapeutic touch, or laying on of hands, during or after the operation. Nurses at the hospital pass their hands over the body without actually touching it. This action is thought to help unblock and balance the chakras (energy channels), thereby boosting the body's natural healing capacities. A survey of 10 patients who were initially "extremely skeptical" of the technique found it to be "remarkably helpful." The complementary care team at Columbia is following up with studies in Kirlian photography, in which special photographic film is used to record the ability of energy healers to control the body's electromagnetic fields.

Recovery
A personal favorite of Dr. Oz is
yoga, because it combines physical activity with meditation to reduce stress. The most important yoga exercise is deep breathing, with the back straight. Staff therapists teach this along with gentle leg stretches, carefully modified to avoid potential harm around incisions and ease strain on the rib cage after heart surgery.

Dr. Oz also advises patients to begin a rigorous new diet. A low-fat, mostly vegetarian regimen rich in grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, with few dairy products and little sugar, can promote wound healing and over the long term boost heart health.

In addition, a number of nutrients are recommended to speed recovery. Supplements might include these Vitamin's: vitamin A with mixed carotenes (25,000 IU a day); vitamin C (1,000 mg a day); and vitamin E (400 IU a day). Other nutrients recommended by Dr. Oz include the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (30 mg 3 times a day); the amino acid L-carnitine (500 mg twice a day); calcium citrate (1,000 mg a day); magnesium citrate (500 mg a day); folic acid (400 mcg daily); and EPA/DHA essential fatty acids (1 g daily).

Finally, once the patient is home from the hospital, aromatherapy may be a useful adjunct for reducing stress and improving sleep. Flowery scents, such as lavender and neroli oils, have long been thought to have a soothing effect and to dull pain.

For more information
Department of Complementary Medicine Services, New York Presbyterian Hospital, 177 Fort Washington Avenue, New York, NY 10032; (212) 305-9622

Further reading
Mehmet Oz, M.D., Healing from the Heart (Dutton, 1998); Julie Motz, Hands of Life (Bantam, 1999); Chip Brown, Afterwards, You're a Genius (Riverhead, 1999)


Date Published: 11/21/2000
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