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This news item appears by permission of The Age newspaper, Melbourne and its author. See also the feature article which accompanied it by clicking here

Back to the old ways

By Roslyn Guy

Posted June 2004
The author,is a senior writer at The Age newspaper, Melbourne, Australia. Her story was first published 29 March 2004

For most nine-year-old girls eager to have their ears pierced, the biggest hurdle is persuading their parents to allow it. But Hayley Spicer's mother took no persuading.

She was fairly confident that her daughter wouldn't go ahead with it. Hayley has cystic fibrosis and has refused more needles in her life than most kids ever imagine having, so it seemed unlikely that she would voluntarily subject herself to two needles in her ears.

Lynda Spicer says that her daughter was so petrified of injections, that in order to insert an intravenous drip essential to her treatment, she has had to be wrapped in a blanket, with five people holding her, and then sedated.

That was before she met Dr Angela Mackenzie, a paediatrician at the Royal ChildrenŐs Hospital. Mackenzie taught Hayley to hypnotise herself and, as her mother describes it, she learned to "go to other places in her mind", to create a barrier between her fears and the medical procedure.

Lynda admits to being sceptical about hypnosis, but she wanted her daughter to take part in a medical trial that would require her to have frequent injections. "So I thought, I'll give it a go - she can't get any worse. I'm so glad I did," she says.

Hypnosis has taught Hayley to control her feelings. So much so that recently she went off with her dad and had her ears pierced and then sent Mackenzie an excited letter telling her of this great achievement.

Mackenzie is just one of an increasing number of doctors who are incorporating complementary therapies such as hypnosis into their practice - a natural progression for a doctor who had started a psychology degree before she moved to medicine.

"I was always interested in the emotions, the bigger picture, but it wasn't until I got sick myself that I questioned what we doctors do,' she says.

About ten years ago, Mackenzie was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease and found little to help her in conventional medicine, not even a sympathetic hearing.

Responding to her distress at vomiting and vertigo - the feeling that the world is spinning around you - her specialist (an ear, nose and throat man) said: "Well, you don't die of it, you know."

The drugs she was prescribed had unpleasant side-effects and didn't help her get better. Then her health deteriorated in other ways - a melanoma was found and her secretions dried up to such an extent that in order to eat she had to drink water.

"I began to feel like I was just a little ship on the high seas being tossed around," she says.

After a year of feeling that her "brain had been replaced with cotton wool", Mackenzie decided to learn to meditate and did a residential program at the Gawler Foundation. It was a decision that not only changed her life but sent her on a new professional journey.

She changed her diet and her lifestyle and became more disciplined about meditation. She says she began to have still moments between the dizzy spells.

At the foundation she learnt creative visualisation and describes how she used this to get secretions back - the key was using the mind to heal her body by imagining a dry river bed that gradually became fuller and fuller until it flooded.

Mackenzie was keen to bring what she had learned into pediatric practice. "I wanted to teach children to help themselves."

She does this by teaching them self-hypnosis, a technique not so different from Gawler's creative visualisation.

"Children are particularly talented at using their minds to help themselves," she says. "And hypnosis is an ancient medical tool, in use for pain management long before anaesthetic drugs."

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