Surgery can be Healing (The Patient Surgeon)

by Dr Anne Malatt MBBS, MS, FRANZCO, FRACS

I am a surgeon.  I love operating, but I have never really felt it to be healing, until now.

I have never been a patient person either, but I recently had surgery as a patient, and truly felt what a profound opportunity for healing it can be.

I chose to have the surgery at the hospital where I work.  I love and trust the staff there and knew I would be in the care of people who love me.

I chose the timing of the surgery so that I had time to prepare adequately beforehand, and so that I had a chance to take time off and rest afterwards. It was a little later than the surgeon would have liked, but I knew that if I did it any sooner, it would have been more stressful for me and I would not have taken enough time off afterwards.

The day itself was amazing.

I felt no fear, and was only worried about being thirsty, as I had been told to fast completely from midnight and I had been asleep since 9pm! Even though I knew this was excessive, I did not want to question or break the rules in case they cancelled my operation! It’s funny how your mind thinks differently when you are a patient. Just so you know, for I have since spoken to several anaesthetists about this (why did you not ask beforehand, you may ask!), you can eat up to 6 hours before surgery, and can drink clear fluids (not including wine, as some patients have done!) up to 2 hours beforehand.

I was treated with love and care from the minute I walked in the door.

The staff were dedicated to my care, whether or not they knew me personally, and when I went into theatre, where I knew everyone, I felt blessed.

I truly felt what an amazing effort goes into making sure you have the correct operation and no harm is done. Most of us – patients and staff – experience it as annoying paperwork, but I was able to see and feel the big picture and how important every little detail was. Everything flowed smoothly and I felt I was part of a graceful movement of love.

Afterwards I felt no pain or any adverse effects really, just some minor discomfort and tiredness. My partner gave me some chakrapuncture afterwards, which really helped me to clear any effects of the anaesthetic and assisted in the healing process.

It was also amazing to lie on the couch and allow my family to help me – all my relationships have deepened and grown because I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and to be helped.

I learned a great deal, as a patient surgeon.

We consider surgery as something to be avoided at all costs, as a sign of failure, as something to be feared. It is challenging to surrender to surgery, knowing all the things that can go wrong.

If you are faced with the prospect of having surgery, choose to be part of the plan. See it as an opportunity for healing and be part of that healing. As much as possible, choose the timing so that it works for you, so that you can prepare for it beforehand and rest afterwards.

Care for yourself as deeply as you can, and allow others to care for you.

Listen to your doctor and take their advice. If they say take a week off, take a week off. I did not listen, went back to work too soon, and have a huge haematoma (secondary bleeding and bruising) to show for it!

Allow yourself to feel what you feel, but don’t feed any fear.

If you have questions, ask them. Ask again if the answers don’t make sense. Get a second opinion, if you feel to.

Make sure you trust the doctor you are entrusting your life to.

See yourself as part of the process (they can’t operate on you without you!).

The more responsibility you can take for the situation you are in, the more can be healed before, during and after the surgery.

It has been profoundly healing for me to realise that what I do, can heal too.

270 thoughts on “Surgery can be Healing (The Patient Surgeon)

  1. “See yourself as part of the process (they can’t operate on you without you!).” – laughed out loud reading this today. Classic – and so true. You are totally part of the process – and an important one.

  2. It is easy to see surgery or illness as a failure, yet when we truly connect to what is being offered us it is a great opportunity not only to heal, but to take stock and make any necessary changes we have been avoiding up until now.

  3. This is such a valuable offering. Thank you, Anne. What I can feel is how we might hide in fear and anxiety when in truth we try avoiding responsibility. Being loving is actually quite simple and there is space for that in every situation we may encounter in life.

  4. Medical treatments, including surgery can be very supportive and healing for our bodies. But supporting ourselves during these times is of equal importance. As you say Anne you playing your part was just as important. Even more than simply turing up and handing your body over to medical staff. We can certainly prepare our bodies, so that they are given a body in its optimum.

  5. I have heard of surgery taking place in a way that is not honouring of the patient and their body in the sense that the quality the surgery is done in is rough, hard and not truly loving or caring. It feels super important to make it all about people first and offering them a true quality and care that can support the healing process. It is amazing as a surgeon yourself that you have seen, recognised and now live this for all to benefit from.

  6. This great blog shows how much the experience of being a patient can be optimised. If only this would be widely known.

  7. Last year I had a very similar experience where I needed minor surgery and even though I naturally had some apprehension and nervousness about it, I did allow myself to surrender to the process and to see it all as a very healing experience and an opportunity to clear, heal and rest my body. I had it at the local hospital and all the staff were amazing and very dedicated. I felt very safe and cared for. My surgeon and anaesthetist were brilliant and I woke up from the surgery like I had had the best deepest sleep with no pain. I am convinced that my approach to the medical care and how I was with myself really affected the quality of the whole experience.

  8. I love what you are presenting here Anne – so very refreshing to hear that when we do our part as patients rather than just expecting the medical system to do it all for us, then we get a very different experience.

  9. I think the thing about surgery that scares me is that it’s totally out of your control, it’s like your life is totally in someone else hands – the word “surrender” comes to mind. I love how you approached it as you were part of the plan, you made the plan, and you made sure it was as supportive for you as it could possibly be, that’s a super empowering way to approach healing.

  10. I love the fact that you chose to be treated by a medical team that you knew personally. Often I find I want to keep my doctors at a distance. This shows me how I compartmentalise my life.

  11. I now appreciate surgery for the deep healing that it offers from the preparation beforehand through to the essential convalescent period afterwards. The more we are able to surrender and nurture ourselves at every stage and allow ourselves the space to fully heal, and not skip parts of the healing process, the deeper the healing that is available to restore true harmony to the body.

  12. This is a great example Anne of how we can prepare ourselves for our operation and to take time afterwards to deeply heal and rest. I can feel the importance of asking for support from others, as it allows the space for the body to truly heal and recover without any stress or pressure.

  13. What is a wonderful reminder in this blog is how important it is at times to sit back and receive the support and help from others.

  14. I had my first (day) surgery last year and it was an incredible process, and a very healing one. I did make sure that i was very much part of the process, asking for more blankets when I was cold, asking the nurse to slow down so I could receive the information and I was treated with such love and care.

  15. There is a great deal that can be said for making sure that you have time to rest and recover after surgery, and accept the help of others, and making sure that you have prepared yourself well in advance of the surgery itself, all the preparation helps with the recovery, and from taking responsibility we get a true healing.

  16. It is great that quite a few doctors expand their understanding when they become patients themselves. This really enriches medicine.

  17. I have never had surgery, but I have had dental work done – teeth removed etc. And the more I cared for myself before and after the deeper the healing process feels. And this can be with any condition, how we live affects how our body heals.

  18. What I can feel is how important it is to accept where we are at, and to surrender to what the body is communicating – and this applies to before, during after a surgery, and any other time – this way of being opens us up to healing being offered.

  19. It feels like perhaps too often our power is totally handed over to medicine and fear. Great to bring it back to appreciating we are part of the whole process, and have choices in how we are going to support ourselves and the medical teams to support us.

  20. Seeing surgery as a part of true healing enables the body to surrender more deeply to the whole healing process and this includes taking responsibility for our part in the process with full preparation and care before and after surgery enabling the whole of our body to heal in full.

  21. Beautiful to feel the healing that is available through surgery and also through surrendering to the process and allowing others to support us. A very different way of appreciating all that is on offer when we come to the point of needing surgery and how we can take an active role in the process and contribute greatly to any successful outcome.

  22. I am starting to appreciate the love that is present in events in life that I once believed to be bad or wrong. Like an illness or disease that offers the opportunity to become more aware and connected to those around us. And like this – the healing that is surgery. It seems that to understand and appreciate the true grace of love we have to embrace a much bigger picture than we have perhaps allowed previously.

  23. Chakra-puncture is a great tool for clearing the effects of anaesthetic. I used to suffer greatly, and now with the support of sessions before and after an operation I have felt immensely better.

  24. “The more responsibility you can take for the situation you are in, the more can be healed before, during and after the surgery.”

    I had surgery for the first time a few months ago, and I agree that it was a truly healing time. It was also quite confronting at times, so I agree that the more responsibility you can take for you in it, is very supportive.

    The lady who was ‘checking me in’ was being quite brusque, and I could feel was going through the motions and talking quite quickly. In that moment, with the courage that I could muster, I asked her to stop, to go more slowly and I shared that this is my first surgery and that I have some anxiety around that. Immediately she stopped, slowed down and went through it with a more personal approach.

  25. Many of us give our power away to medical professionals. It’s true, they do hold a lot of positional power and knowledge power but then we are the experts of our own bodies! We need to work together as equals, without arrogance (doctors) and without shrinking (us).

    1. That is true and there is also a great benefit in embracing the doctors’ approach and welcoming it.

  26. A version of this blog should be on a pamphlet given to patients before surgery, truly great advice on a subject that may seem obvious but is actually quite confronting for people.

  27. What a beautiful set of realisations Anne. I can really feel how the ability for surgery to gracefully incise and remove that which is no longer needed is a gracious gift.

  28. To be able to remove something that does not belong in our body or correct something that is not working properly to restore its optimal function (as much as possible) is a supportive correction for our bodies. Why do we not appreciate the profound healing in that that surgery blesses us with – after all, where would the world of today be without surgery?

  29. “I truly felt what an amazing effort goes into making sure you have the correct operation and no harm is done.” It sounds so obvious and something we should all be able to assume will happen but I’m sure it must have happened – more than once. How devastating for all involved. It’s awesome you’ve pointed it out Anne for I was taking this part for granted and not appreciating it to the depths it needs.

  30. I love that you were provided with a gorgeous opportunity to experience it all from the other side of the fence and then be able to support others through this blog and offer advice in preparing adequately, organising support and bringing responsibility and self care into any surgery to make the most of their opportunity to heal.

  31. Beautiful account Anne of what it is like for you as a doctor to then become the patient, how healing and amazing it was that you chose to be aware of this and then change how you are with your own patients as a result.

  32. There is much that we can do to prepare ourselves ready for surgery and support ourselves, and when the surgery is complete and we are recovering we need to take our time and be really gentle with ourselves, as every movement we make is either harming or healing.

    1. Very true Sally. The body is in a very precise period of healing at these times and this needs to be honoured in full.

  33. I used to think of having surgery as a failure too but something changed in me in the early part of this new millenium and I realised that I could and would, not only take responsibility for why I got ill in the first place but also embrace the possibility of the need for surgery, and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. I have only had to have one surgical procedure since that time but now I truly support others to have surgery if they feel to and would also do so myself. Sometimes a lot of poison cam amass in the body and by removing the mass we remove the accumulated poison.

  34. Perfectly written and this is my experience as well. How you are has a direct impact on how things go for you in these and any situation really. Being an active support in the way described in this article absolutely helps you and everyone with what is needing to be done. There is one thing to give yourself over, another to fight and then there is your eyes wide open and being an active part of these moments. In place of walking into something like this and hoping for the best or praying all goes well we can take an active role in how things will be by setting ourselves up like this. It makes sense that how you are prior to an operation will be how you are during and after. I will certainly take more care after reading this, after all you can never have too much care.

  35. Taking responsibility is important Anne, as you have shared as well as really supporting ourselves by allowing enough preparation time to rest before and after surgery and therefore opening up the body to a deeper level of healing.

  36. Very beautiful and inspiring to feel how when we surrender our body and being to heal, every moment offers us the opportunity to choose how we support ourselves with what is needed for us to maximise our healing. This highlights for me how essential our responsibility is in what we are choosing, as this plays an equally important part as to the degree of healing we experience.

  37. A great insight that the marvels of surgery and other medical procedures can only go so far. Without our personal commitment and dedication to support ourself in the unfolding that illness and disease prompts there is no true healing.

  38. Such sound and practical advice Anne. We really do have the power within us to heal ourselves if we are willing to make the choice to deepen our own self-care, and not be afraid or ashamed to ask for extra help and support when it is needed. And not only can it be a deeper healing for us as individuals, but it is an opportunity to deepen our relationships with all those around us, as you have so beautifully shown here.

  39. It makes so much sense to me to have surgery when it suits the client where possible. So often we accept the first appointment without asking ourselves if it is a date and time that supports us and whoever is caring for us or in my case in the past I would consider the carer but not myself! It can make such a difference to our healing.

  40. Thank you for writing this Anne. I had major surgery last year and I found it to be an amazing experience mainly due to the fact that I had incredible support from Universal Medicine modalities. Through the esoteric healing sessions I had before surgery I felt very much a part of the healing process and the lead up to surgery was a very important part of that. Feeling settled within myself and prepared mentally and physically was super important and led to a smooth and restful recovery and healing.

  41. I find it interesting that the word patient appears to have such different meanings when it is a noun as opposed to a verb. I looked it up and patient comes from the latin patior – to suffer or bear the illness, disease and the treatment. This implies a passive approach on behalf of the patient and hardly encourages them to play their crucial part in their own healing.

  42. I once had surgery many years ago and it signified all that was wrong and corrupt about aspects of the current medical institutions, albeit there were some lovely people I encountered – the surgery was unnecessary and I was naive and not understanding that such a thing was even possible to happen – counter that with a few years back I had major surgery but approached it with far more responsibility and awareness – the surgeon was astonishing, the hospital staff amazing and the whole process deeply healing and uplifting.. I can see that how we bring ourselves to that point and the responsibility we choose is pivotal in embracing in full the healing on offer and the opportunity to start anew, or whether we continue recklessly as before, and choose to stay disempowered, uncommitted and hell-bent on continuing our same ill momentum.

  43. I love this Anne, life presents us with many opportunities to heal including surgery, and as you say we can ‘choose to be part of the plan’, choose to embrace the learning and take the rest needed by our bodies. On my last surgery I felt the huge attention to detail and care offered by the surgery team and how everything had a purpose and a flow with it, and the biggest thing I learned was to surrender and let go; I think that’s one of the things that we can struggle with in surgery, the fact that we are asked to let go, to the point where we are not conscious and afterwards there is a level of care needed to support our recovery and healing. But as you suggest it’s an opportunity for us to stop and take deeper care of ourselves.

  44. Thank you Anne. I had a surgery not that long ago and it was exactly such blogs and conversations as this that offered me the understanding of the significance of my own part in the process and the healing offered through the experience. I can vouch for everything you have shared here, not least that the more we surrender to the process and the more responsibility we take “the more can be healed before, during and after the surgery”.

  45. “all my relationships have deepened and grown because I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and to be helped” This is such a beautiful reflection of the healing we receive by not trying to ‘go it alone’. .

    1. I can absolutely relate to this Mary. I was only reflecting tonight how every experience and how we deal with it can be used to invite people in or push them away.

  46. ‘ Care for yourself as deeply as you can, and allow others to care for you.’ Such sound advice and something we would say is obvious but how deep do we go with this care and do we really surrender to the care from others?

  47. It feels more supportive to have things in place before, during and after a medical procedure as best as we can, and not just leave it and see what happens. Speaking up and letting our families know what we need and when we will need it will help to elevate some of the fear of the unknown which often accompanies a hospital visit, along with being more responsible for ourselves – that way we can do our part and the hospital staff can do theirs.

    1. Absolutely Julie and expressing fully to the surgeon also makes a huge difference. It can make the difference between being seen and just being another of the many that pass through their door.

  48. Thank you for your sharing Anne, it is great what you share “The more responsibility you can take for the situation you are in, the more can be healed before, during and after the surgery.” Taking responsibility for one’s self is the biggest step to healing.

  49. A few years ago I had surgery and like you Anne I found it to be a huge healing. I felt like I was given a stop moment to consider how I had been living before the surgery and then time after the surgery to choose a new way of being. A big part of that was learning to care for myself on a much deeper level.

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