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 Chakra-puncture 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.

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

  1. It is gorgeous to feel how well you were cared for with the team and what a wonderful job medical staff and teams do, who on the whole take their care with each patient yet are put under so much pressure and lately it seems more and more so. The system needs to change in order that they first are supported to, in turn, be able to support others.

  2. What I get from this blog is the word ‘responsibility’ – taking responsibility for ourselves when we find that we need to have an operation. I have noticed as a volunteer at the local hospital that we have a tendency to place ourselves in the hands of the surgeon and expect them to cure us of whatever aliment we have so that we can go out in the world and carry on as though nothing has taken place. As you say Anne, we as the patient have a part to play too, we cannot just leave it all the medical profession.

  3. Anne, I loved reading your sharing, from the perspective of a surgeon being the patient. We get so caught up in the head that “doctors” / “celebrities” / “royals”, (the list could be endless), in other words, people of identification, can’t/don’t have surgery, besides plastic surgery. Well at the end of the day it is a body, a body that is no different to ‘Joe Blogs’ that walks amongst us all. It heals no different to the aforementioned.

    A key comment mentioned made me chuckle, at the same time, there is a responsibility to this, “see yourself as part of the process (they can’t operate on you without you!)”. I have often observed patients hand themselves over to the process, with an attitude of: I’m going to be fixed now, so I don’t need to play a part in this anymore.

    In everything, no matter what part you play, there is a responsibility and if everyone takes responsibility for that responsibility, then there wouldn’t be any parts to play with. It is that simple.

  4. Perhaps it should be part of the training and preparation for being a surgeon to undergo surgery to discover how healing it can be!

    1. Ha ha Mary, that is funny. But seriously, there is sense in what has been stated. I have met many surgeons, who I wondered why they became surgeons, their bedside manners, well pretty much stank and yet they were fantastic surgeons. What was the issue?

      I’ve often pondered on this, should a lawyer be on the receiving end of persecution. Should a midwife experience child birth before becoming a midwife, and the list could go on with many other professions.

      I feel the key component of healing, is a team work (without making it or sounding strenuous). Everyone plays a role in the surgery, from the cleaner to the patient. Could that be added to their training curriculum?

  5. It is very important to take self care to a deeper level after an illness or surgery to deeply rest, get plenty of sleep and eat well, to be gentle and tender with yourself and take all the time you need to recover fully.

  6. “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” – I love this. How powerful it can be when we choose to be part of something we don’t quite like experiencing so that we don’t have to become a mere recipient or a victim of the situation, but be a participant, making a difference to what we would experience along the way.

  7. I love that as you went through this new experience – for you – you chose to be open to the healing and the lessons which were on offer throughout the process, especially the one about surrendering to your vulnerability and accepting support. And I’m sure if there’s a next time, you will have learned the lesson to listen to your doctor’s advice about returning to work! A very valuable lesson indeed.

  8. It is so important to honour our own feelings in timing and not just follow our head when it is at the expense of the body. The head can find thousands of excuses for not listening to the body but it always works out better to listen to our body. This is easier when we have a momentum of self-love and care in our life.

  9. Awesome to feel how we can take an active part in our own healing throughout the process of surgery. I have always tended to feel a failure when I got sick in any way and it is beautifully confirming to feel the surrender in allowing others to support you in your healing journey alongside the responsibility we have to take an active role in the preparation and post operative recovery process.

  10. The work of medicine is miraculous and such a blessing for us all. The insight into the body that doctors have and the mastery with the scalpel some have is truly a gift for humanity. The opportunity to take surgeries as a healing, not just a stitch-me-up fix is immense, if we surrender we can heal a great deal of stagnant energy in the body which then leaves us feeling vital and full of life to live our life differently.

  11. Illness and disease when truly understood offers us the opportunity to truly heal that which we have allowed to make us unwell, in which surgery can be important part of the healing process. Beautiful to feel the surrender, love and care you held yourself in to the support and maximise the opportunity to deeply heal.

  12. I had surgery to my nose just over a month ago and I agree it’s a massive healing opportunity. I previously had the same opinion that surgery is to be avoided at all costs but the new way I can breathe now – wow I so appreciate the incredible things our medical system today can do.

  13. The opportunity for healing from surgery opens up to a far deeper level when we take responsibility for making preparations to fully support our body before, during and after the procedure, lovingly looking after the detail to truly nurture ourselves including accepting support from others too when needed.

    1. Absolutely – it’s an amazing opportunity to discover an even deeper and more nurturing way to care for ourselves – for me it changed a lot in the way I look after myself day-to-day.

  14. “If you are faced with the prospect of having surgery, choose to be part of the plan.” This is great advice like the whole blog is, thank you.

  15. Very healing indeed Anne Malatt. We hold the ability to heal and help others heal all of the time, not only in our medical world or health profession but all over — every single day, in our every day in the choices that we make.

  16. “Care for yourself as deeply as you can, and allow others to care for you.” This is such an important part of the operation and healing process but how often do we fully allow this.

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