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“ It’s choice, not chance that
determines your destiny ”

~ Jean Nidetch ~

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“ Everything you can imagine, is real ”
~ Pablo Picasso ~

Hypnosis as alternative to Anaesthesia? Perhaps!

“ Who looks outside, dreams, who looks inside, awakes. ” ~ Carl Jung ~

First major operation in South Africa with the aid of hypnosis

Personal report by Pieter Harris: Psychologist (Counselling)

What is hypnosis? Presently, no acceptable definition exists to define hypnosis accurately. Generally speaking hypnosis can be describes as an altered condition of the mind where:

  • Your attention span is more focused
  • Your body and mind is relaxed
  • You are more susceptible to suggestions from the therapist without the loss of your critical abilities and value system.

A trustful relationship between therapist and client, motivation of client, and the readiness of the client to co-operate with the therapist, is of critical importance. Hypnosis may be useful as an alternative to anaesthesia as described below. What happened, is the following:

On Sunday 11 April 1999 I developed a severe stomach-ache during the night and was admitted first to the Nite-doc clinic and afterwards to the Cosmos hospital.

After extensive tests were done, the cause of the problem was clear: I was suffering from acute cholecystitis, and a fairly large gallstone was stuck in the bile duct. It was explained to me that surgery was the only way out, and there would be very serious complications if the gallstone were not removed.

A Laparoscopic cholysystectory was scheduled for Thursday 16 April.

Because of a chronic asthma-problem since 1991, treatment for the lungs was prescribed, and after that a lung-function test was done, it turned out that I had a lung-capacity of less than 35%, and the operation was cancelled by dr. van Rooyen, my G.P. It was simply too dangerous to operate, because my lungs would not be able to withstand anaesthesia.

The pulmonologist, who was treating me since 1991, was not available for advice, as he was attending a international medical conference in Portugal.

After some hard thinking while still in hospital, and remembering that dr. Jaco Naude of Pretoria told me that I have an excellent talent for hypnosis, I requested dr. Van Rooyen to phone dr. Louise Olivier in Pretoria, to explain the whole situation to her, and ask her if she would consider it coming to Witbank on a Saturday afternoon, in order to try hypnosis as an alternative to anaesthesia. Dr. Olivier immediately agreed. Everything went right from that moment on as the surgeon, dr. Reinhardt van Rensburg, who was to conduct the operation, also agreed to operate on me on a Saturday afternoon.
Arrangements were also made for an anaesthetist dr. “Oupa” Pretorius to be present as a precautionary measure.

News soon spread in hospital that an operation was to be done using hypnosis instead of general anaesthesia.I was advised that I should reconsider the whole matter, because the use of hypnosis comes to dabbling with the occult.

Nevertheless, I decided to go through with it, and on Saturday I first had a trial-run with dr. Olivier inducing hypnosis in one of the hospital rooms near the operation theatre. While in hypnosis, dr. Van Rooyen explained to me in detail how the operation was to be performed. After finishing explaining the procedures, he then stuck four needles into the exact locations where the incisions were to be made later. I could feel the needles going in, but did not experience any pain at all, except for one little prick during the first needle. The goal of this experiment was to test my ability to detach from pain with the aid of hypnosis.

Then the decision was made to go ahead with the operation, and Dr. Olivier asked me to say a prayer for all of us, which I appreciated very much. I was then taken into theatre, feeling very scared. Later on, after the operation, I learned that everybody in that theatre on that Saturday afternoon, were scared, for it was the first time in South Africa that a major operation like this one was to be done using only hypnosis without any general or local anaesthesia.

Then things really get started. After the usual hypnotic induction and deepening of trance, dr. Olivier introduced a pain-scale ranging from ten to zero – ten meaning maximum pain and zero no pain at all, and we began working down all along the scale, starting at ten. Dr. Olivier asked my subconscious mind if it was in order to lower the count from 10 to nine and I indicated “Yes” (moving my right index finger for a Yes sign), and then from nine to eight (but this time I indicated “No” with my thumb, my no-finger). At this point the operation was almost cancelled, since my unconscious mind refused to grant permission for the pain-control levels to be reduced further more. I was stuck at eight, but dr. Olivier very skilfully got around my defences, and at last we moved down to zero (no pain). Dr. Olivier then asked my subconscious mind to take me to the sinking Titanic from the Titanic-movie, and suggested that I was floating in that ice cold water with a live-jacket on, and my whole body beneath my head is becoming numb. My head and body then felt very much dissociated (detached), and the operation began.Four surgical incisions were made, and four tubes were put into my abdomen in order to carry out a laparoscopic examination. Dr. Reinhardt van Rensburg, the surgeon, was working at a maddening speed. During the incisions I didn’t felt any pain, not even twitching a face muscle.

However, when dr. van Rensburg began tugging at the gallbladder, and I was getting more and more uncomfortable. After a while I was experiencing pain, and was actually holding dr. Olivier’s hand, while she was telling me a metaphor (story) of a little duck and a elephant living together in the bush. The purpose of the metaphor was to distract my conscious mind from the operation that was going on. And it worked. After a while I discarded the story, and decided to go back to the sinking Titanic. But soon I became extremely uncomfortable, and the anaesthetist at this point gave me anaesthesia. But while under anaesthesia, dr. Olivier continued talking to me, and suggested that I was to awaken very easily after he operation was completed, feeling less pain that I would expected, and also bleeding less. There was also almost no bleeding during the operation, as I learned later from the doctors.

This time it was the anaesthetist’s turn to be amazed, as I easily woke up from anaesthesia, feeling quite well and orientated right from the start. Upon wakening, I did felt some pain, but it was bearable, since I was giving a drug for pain. Bleeding was minimal. The next day, Sunday I was discharged from hospital, and went home but I still felt somehow dissociated, until Monday, after which the sense of dissociation disappeared completely. Everything was quite well.