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5 Incredible Hawaii Medical Stories


(page 6 of 6)

The Hypnotist in the O.R.

A retried neurosurgeon describes his most interesting case ever.

Dr. Maxwell Urata.
Photo: Rae Huo

In his long career as a neurosurgeon at Kuakini Medical Center, Dr. Maxwell Urata saw plenty of amazing cases. But ask what his most amazing case was, and he immediately goes back to a surgery he performed in 1979. The patient was a chiropractor who had previously worked as a cop on the Mainland. Before giving up police work, he had been shot in the line of duty. He had two bullet fragments still embedded in his neck, and he wanted Urata, who is now retired, to remove them. The man did not, however, want anesthesia. Instead, he wanted a hypnotist.

Such a thing had not been done at Kuakini before, and it took the hospital’s administration six months to grant approval. In the meantime, the patient worked extensively with a psychologist who was trained in hypnosis.

On the day of the surgery, the hypnotist was at the patient’s side as he was administered a local anesthetic to block the pain where Urata would make the incision. The patient was fully alert and talkative throughout the procedure. Urata kept him in a seated position to help reduce bleeding. Urata also administered epinephrine, which constricts blood vessels, to reduce bleeding. Still, there was blood, and the hypnotist—to Urata’s chagrin— was quick to point this out.

“That was not particularly complimentary of me as a surgeon,” Urata says. “But it was an honest observation.”

Then, as Urata recollects, the hypnotist said to the patient: “OK, do you recall how we practiced reducing bleeding in the neck area? Now is the time to do that.”

Urata was dubious. Fat chance, he thought.

But remarkably, the bleeding suddenly stopped. The patient’s blood pressure remained normal, but the oozing from the wound simply ceased. “It was as if a faucet had been turned off,” Urata says.

Next Urata focused on locating the bullet fragments. He found the first one easily and removed it. The second one eluded him. The patient realized Urata couldn’t pin-point the fragment, and, as Urata recalls, he said: “Doc, put an instrument near where you think the bullet is.” Urata did. “Go five millimeters to the right.” Urata complied. “A little bit more.”


“When I spread the connective tissue the bullet came into view,” Urata recalls. “This in its own way was just as mystifying as the first event.”

The patient spent the night in the hospital (this was 1979) and went home the next day. Three days later, he got married and—“against medical advice,” Urata says—went on his honeymoon.

“This was my most interesting and fascinating case,” Urata says.

A Brief History: Hypnosis in Surgery

The first documented use of hypnotism in surgery dates to the 1830s, when a French surgeon performed a mastectomy using hypnosis as the only anesthetic. Twentieth-century physicians paid little attention to hypnosis until 1956, when the British Medical Association declared: “(T)here is a place for hypnotism in the production of anesthesia or analgesia for surgery and dental operations, and in suitable subjects it is an effective method of relieving pains in childbirth without altering normal course of labor.” Interest in hypnotism among surgeons has waxed and waned since then.


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