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Published on January 09, 2017

Calm down and de-stress before surgery

Calm down and de-stress before surgery

It’s a bustling Monday morning at the Falmouth Hospital Ambulatory Care Unit (ACU), where staff is preparing patients for surgery.

Frank Cobis of Rockland is getting ready for hip replacement surgery, and he lies in his bed in the middle of a whirlwind of activity. His wife, Christine, sits anxiously nearby. Nurses are coming and going to take his vital signs, explain protocols, double-check paperwork and start IVs. Conversations about medications, procedures, where family members will wait and anticipated length of surgery happen in short order.

Cobis appears nervous and apprehensive. And then, amidst all the busyness of the staff preparing him for surgery, Barbara Coughlin-Martin, RN, LCMT, MMHC, quietly and calmly enters his cubicle and stands next to his bed, introducing herself as the Integrative Health Services Coordinator at the hospital. She asks permission to work with him.

With a nod from Frank, she begins a therapy known as Therapeutic Touch by placing her hands on the front of his right shoulder and upper back. She gently moves her hands, keeping them in the same area, occasionally talking with him in a quiet, soothing voice and reminding him to breathe. He begins to outwardly relax.

His wife begins to relax as well and both continue conversations with staff and answer questions during the treatment. Even with all the activities, there is a noticeable calm.

“We (as humans) are hard-wired for anxiety, which is actually a good thing,” said Coughlin-Martin. “It’s a protective mechanism to keep us out of danger. But, in situations when stress continues with no immediate or actual danger, it can have a negative effect on your health.”

Coughlin-Martin’s session with Cobis came about at the suggestion of his son, Justin Cobis, PA-C, a physician’s assistant with Paul Dimond, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Falmouth Hospital. Dr. Dimond performed his father’s surgery.

Helping Patients to Relax and Breathe

To help patients reduce their anxiety prior to surgery, Coughlin-Martin provides what are known as “therapeutic interventions.”

These include:

Integrative Health Services, also known as Complementary Medicine, are therapies that promote relaxation, reduce stress, diminish pain, provide an increased sense of well-being, boost the immune system and soothe the mind, body and spirit according to the Falmouth Hospital Integrative Health Services brochure. The services are offered free of charge to patients at Falmouth Hospital.

“These interventions, particularly hands-on treatments, help patients to relax and breathe freely,” Coughlin-Martin said. “And breath actually communicates better with your nervous system. It helps you to feel calmer than when you try to mentally talk yourself out of anxiety.”

After a treatment, patients are better able to communicate with staff, ask questions and hear information because they are not as affected by stress and anxiety, she said.

While many will choose to have therapeutic interventions from Coughlin-Martin, it is fine to combine it with medication for stress or anxiety that has been prescribed by a physician, she said. “It’s not an either or situation.” The interventions she does increases the effectiveness of the medications so both can work well together, she said.

A study led by Samuel Attias at the University of Haifa in Israel, showed that a combination of complementary alternative medicine and standard care, including anti-anxiety drugs, reduced preoperative anxiety in patients by almost 60 percent.

Coughlin-Martin will also do a therapeutic treatment with the patient’s caregiver.

“Calming down and de-stressing a caregiver can be very good for the patient, too. I see that as really important. We’re a family-friendly hospital and are all about support of the patient and family.”

Initially Skeptical, Cobis Would Now Recommend It

Coughlin-Martin continued to work with Cobis during his inpatient stay at the hospital following his hip replacement. He is now one month post-surgery and is free of pain, and is driving and back to work, according to his son.

“My dad was initially skeptical about working with Barbara. Looking back, he is very glad he did. He feels that she has a very calming way about her and he would recommend this service to anyone considering joint replacement surgery.”

Integrative health services are available in the ACU and during a surgical or medical hospital stay. Coughlin-Martin also has specially-trained volunteers who are able to do a treatment if she is not available.

Patients can be referred to Integrative Health Services through the pre-admission process, by their physician, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or the admitting ACU nurse. They can also self-refer.

For more information call 508-457-3760.

Alternative therapies offered by the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod include:

Aromatherapy with Judi Pregot- jpregot@vnacapecod.org or 774-392-3331

Music therapy with Joy Indomenico- jjindomenico@yahoo.com or 508-280-8618

Reiki with volunteer Rick Demello- capefaith@comcast.net or 508-362-8253