Medical Use of Hypnosis* – Singapore Medical Journal


22nd March 1997 – The Daily Telegraph – Surgery

‘What should one do if, as surgeon-in-charge of a Japanese Prisoner of War camp hospital in Singapore, one runs out of anaesthetic drugs – a situation that Captain Michael Woodruff, of the Australian Army medical corps, found himself in during the closing months of the last war.  His ‘hospital’ had no proper beds, mattresses or sheets, while the operating theatre was a wooden hut with a mud floor.  In these straitened circumstances, Mr Woodruff operated on patients with perforated ulcers, intestinal obstructions and acute appendicitis.  ‘By the beginning of 1945, we had no chloroform left and only a small amount of local anaesthetic’, he recalls.  ‘As the Japanese refused to provide any more, a Dutch colleague suggested I should try to operate without conventional anaesthesia after he had hypnotised the patients’.  Having induced a state of hypnosis, it was suggested that the patient would ‘feel no pain at the site of the operation’, and that ‘he would experience no post-operative pain and remember nothing of what had happened to him’.  Over the next few months – up until the Japanese surrender – several dozen surgical and dental procedures were conducted in this manner.  In the case of one man with a severe infection of the hand, the whole of the upper extremity was ‘rendered anaesthetic’.  An incision was made over the first finger and pus evacuated all the way to the tendon sheath.  ‘The operation lasted about 20 minutes, during which he did not appear to experience any pain, nor did he move his hand unless instructed to do so.’

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