Anesthesiologist Laima Pauliukonis, M.D., knew that moving to Brattleboro, Vermont, wouldn't maximize her paycheck. But that's not what she was looking for. Instead, she joined a group of health-care professionals, cancer survivors, clergy, and psychotherapists in the Vermont Healing Tools Project, which provides care and support and little or no cost to people with chronic or critical illnesses, their caregivers, and their loved ones. Both the project and her story below are powerful testaments to the healing power of human connections.
The patient seated before me for her pre-operative anesthesia interview was a middle-aged woman. She was honest with me about feeling apprehensive, and her anxiety was understandable. The surgery was for a large, ominous-looking cyst revealed on her ovary by ultrasound imaging. It could be cancer. Furthermore, she had recently moved from a large metropolitan area known for being at the cutting edge of medicine. By comparison, Brattleboro, Vermont, must have seemed like nowhere. At the close of the interview, she pushed a sheet of notebook paper across my desk. "Would you read these to me as I go under my anesthesia?" she asked. The page contained affirmations for a safe and comfortable recovery. I was delighted! Having been trained in mind-body medicine and clinical hypnosis, I was well aware of the benefits these techniques can produce when people take the time to practice.
I asked what other preparations she had made, and she explained that she had sought out Reiki treatments and spent time in meditative guided imagery to heal the cyst. I suggested that she spend the weekend reading the book "Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster" and assured her that I would be glad to read affirming statements to her in the operating room. She then asked me if she could bring a tape of music to be played in the operating room. I suggested that she bring headphones. We established that magic bond of a healing partnership.
On the day of the operation, she arrived at the prep area calm and serene. After giving her the medication for her anesthesia, I repeated her affirmations as she drifted off into unconsciousness, calm and confident. All the while, the headphones of her portable tape player delivered soothing music.
Throughout the operation, her blood pressure and heart remained steady, and she required strikingly little anesthetic medication to maintain her relaxed unconscious state. As impressed as I was with her remarkable anesthetic course, the real drama turned out to be in the surgical field. Instead of a cyst, the surgeon found only a small strand of scar tissue. Nothing even worthy of sending up to the pathologist. My eyes welled up.