AS THE surgeon’s knife cut into her chest, 46-year-old Pippa Plaisted should have been in agony. The 45-minute breast cancer operation she was undergoing at the Lister Hospital in London would normally have needed a general anaesthetic. But Plaisted had not been anaesthetised, nor given painkilling drugs of any sort.
Instead, hypnotherapist Charles Montigue stood at the operating table, his thumb resting on Plaisted’s forehead, monitoring the hypnotic trance he had put her in minutes before the operation began. Eyes closed but awake, Plaisted could hear the surgeon calmly telling her, at each stage of the operation, what was going to happen next.
Plaisted had already used hypnotherapy to help overcome her fear of operations but had never tried it during surgery. It seemed a daring thing to do, but she was desperate to avoid conventional anaesthetics. She had had a series of operations, and after each one the drugs had left her feeling dizzy for months.
Astonishingly, the hypnosis succeeded in making her operation entirely pain-free. “The surgeon was cutting and sewing inside me, but I could not feel any sensation at all,” Plaisted recalls. “After the operation I felt tired, but there was no nausea or wooziness. I had a clear head and felt totally normal.”
For most people the idea of undergoing major surgery while conscious seems unthinkable, but Plaisted’s use of hypnosis is no one-off. In Liege Hospital, Belgium, anaesthetists routinely use a procedure that they call “hypnosedation”. They have found that when combined with local anaesthetic and much-reduced amounts of other analgesic drugs, medical hypnosis is an effective alternative to general anaesthesia. …