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.

269 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. 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.

  13. 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.

  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.

  17. I have had 3 operations over the last few years and found all of them to be very enjoyable, healing and supportive!

  18. “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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

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

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

    1. Really nothing is in our control because anything can happen at any time anywhere. However, the way we live has far more of an effect on these things than we often allow ourselves to be aware of.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

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

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. “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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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?

  44. “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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

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