Every time the nurses or doctors came into my daughter’s hospital room, they shuffled through her chart, puzzled.
“Did they forget to mark her oxycodone, her painkillers?” they would ask.
“She hasn’t taken any. She’s doing fine with the ibuprofen,” I would confirm.
“Are you sure? That doesn’t seem right.”
Yet it was perfect. In the days following major bone surgery, my then 15-year-old daughter, Chiara — who gave me permission to share her story — only took one oxycodone pill. Knowing that 6-10% of patients post-surgery end up on long-term use of opioid painkillers, we wanted to stay as far away as possible from an addiction epidemic that is all too real in America. And with the help of an empowering self-managed program, we succeeded. So if you or someone you know ever faces a planned surgery (especially during the time of Covid), tuck away this post, because what you’ll learn could be of measurable and immeasurable help.
In June of 2018, my daughter underwent surgery. A major one. Her left femur was sawed in two, straightened with a piece of cadaver bone, and fused together with a titanium plate. We had been through the ordeal once before with her right leg 18 months earlier. And while I wouldn’t call it “easy” or “routine”, my daughter came through with relative ease, each day better than the day before. Her story is a shining and powerful example of how we can access the power of our thinking to help heal ourselves and each other.
Chiara was born with a rare disease (XLH) that led to soft bones. It wasn’t diagnosed until she was two-and-a-half, and by then she was bow-legged. Thankfully, this didn’t harm her other than making her an awkward, if non-existent athlete. And it meant she (we) had to stay on top of her medicine doses 5-times-a-day and monitor everything closely with her doctors. Despite the medicines, once she stopped growing she’d still need surgery to straighten her legs.
While the osteotomies were the most intensive part of Chiara’s ordeal, they were just the beginning of a months-long process. Each surgery involved a hospital stay; continuous icing; wearing a brace; using a wheelchair, walker, and crutches; physical therapy; and a compromised life for a good while.
What was missing from Chiara’s surgical equation? An ongoing drip of opioid drugs used to manage the harsh pain that accompanies bone surgeries. So whenever the doctors and nurses came in to check her chart, curious about her lack of strong painkillers, I’d tell them about the “Heal Faster” protocol we did. They took note.
A Powerful Protocol Anyone Preparing for Surgery Can Use
When my sister first told me about this program I was skeptical. Could my young teenage daughter fold in a nightly guided meditation weeks before her surgery? Would the anesthesiologist actually be okay to read “healing statements” as Chiara was going under, and coming out of, anesthesia? Would our friends and family stop their day a half hour before the scheduled surgery to picture Chiara surrounded by a “purple blanket of love”—and would that actually have any effect? I had my inner eye-roll moments too.
So, while we were folding laundry one afternoon weeks before her first surgery, Chiara and I listened to the NPR radio interview with author Peggy Huddleston (also in Spanish, linked on the HealFaster homepage). Our conclusion: Why not? Why wouldn’t she want to minimize drug use, and have a smoother road pre- and post- surgery? Plus, it was backed by scientific research. So we got on board.
Chiara began a nightly bedtime routine of listening to a soothing guided meditation. I joined her on occasion and always ended up in a state of deep relaxation. The meditation included prompts to picture points of post-surgery healing. It was designed to bring you out of “flight or fight” mode and into one of intentional healing.
Another part of the program involves getting the anesthesiologist on board, which was surprisingly welcome. We provided Chiara’s doctor with a list of healing statements to be spoken as she went under, and came out of, anesthesia. Things like:
“Following this operation, you will feel comfortable and you will heal very well.”
“Your operation has gone very well.”
“Following this operation your leg will heal quickly and easily.”
And even something so basic as: “Following this operation, you will be hungry for jello. You will be thirsty and urinate easily.”
If hypnosis can work, why wouldn’t this work?
The final piece of the protocol involves getting the patient’s loved ones to send healing thoughts 30 minutes before the actual procedure. Their assignment: to picture Chiara lovingly surrounded in a “blanket” of purple, her favorite color at the time.
A Positive Outcome for All of Us
Chiara came out of the surgery and off her epidural, needing only one oxycodone pill. She managed for the following 10 days on ibuprofen and acetaminophen alone. This is not to imply that healing was a breeze, but I’ve no doubt it was far breezier than it would have been without all the focused intention aimed toward healing.
We’ve come so far when it comes to healing ourselves. As the daughter of a doctor, I grew up steeped in traditional “western medical-think.” Back in the day, prayer was the only acceptable “add on” to surgery, to be used by the patient, family and friends only. And though I’ve no issue at all with prayer, it does reinforce the fact that you are at the mercy of a higher power — whether that “higher” power is the doctor, drugs, or God. While we may indeed be at the mercy of one or all of those higher powers, it completely ignores any power that we ourselves can bring to the table.
Those such as my daughter who’ve actively participated in their own healing process like the protocol prescribed in the HealFaster book are all the better for it—literally. The nurses and doctors at Shriners (where Chiara had her surgery) don’t think her protocol is so odd anymore. In fact, in the second go-around, her anesthesiologist embraced it fully. As a more recently trained physician, she was no stranger to some of the studies at the foundation of the protocol.
Medicine and the understanding of how we heal is evolving. In so many ways, we are becoming better at healing. And as more of us access this power, our imagination’s the limit on how we might use it for good.
Update: My daughter has seven-inch scars visible on each of her legs. Her disease meant she grew up as the “kid who needs to take her doses,” the kid who was an outlier when it came to milestones like walking or exhibiting any kind of athletic competency. Yet I don’t regret any of this for her — because all of it made her who she is.
Chiara is strong to her core. She’s used to being on the edge of “normal” which has given her tremendous ability to brush off subtle forms of peer pressure. Today she throws herself — mind, body, and soul — into theatrical pursuits and social activism, fearlessly reaching for the stars. She has a bottomless well of empathy for others who are challenged. And she has zero self-consciousness about her scars, both visible and invisible.
May we all aim to be better, like this.
Learn about the amazing medical organization that helps kids like Chiara become their healthiest selves. I am grateful to be able to shine a little light on what they do in Becoming People Who Help Kids Heal.