Reiki in Ob-Gyn
by Jeri Mills, MD
In a recent interview, the radio talk show host began, "Reiki and hands on healing. That sounds like a bunch of wu-wu stuff to me. What on earth would make a scientist, a woman who is both a veterinarian and a physician write a book about Reiki?"
"Because it works," was my reply.
How did a physician come to be a Reiki practitioner? For me, energy medicine was the realization of a dream that began when, as a teenager, I started reading science fiction and fantasy novels. Through university, veterinary school and later medical school and residency, whenever I felt frustrated by the limitations of modern society and Western medicine, I escaped to the worlds of Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, worlds where people were psychic, where surgeons performed healings with their hands and with their minds instead of with the crude knives that were the tools of my trade. Still, it was all just a dream. Then, in 1993, I moved to Tucson, Arizona and discovered real people who were living the life that had always been the core of my dreams and fantasies.
Shortly after arriving in Tucson, I enrolled in a creativity workshop at Pima Community College. The instructor, Diane Ealy, a woman with a PhD in psychology, mentioned in passing that she was able to channel healing energy with her hands. My heart lit up. This bright, educated woman claimed to be able to do what I had always dreamed of.
A few weeks later at a lunch meeting I asked Diane to tell me more about this energy channeling.
"I'm able to draw healing energy from the earth, pull it into my heart and then send it out my hands into other people. It helps them to feel stronger and to heal faster."
"Can anyone do energy channeling?"
My heart seemed to beat a bit faster. "Can you teach me?"
"Sure," She replied, but she never did.
Still, the seeds were planted. Over the next few months, I learned to meditate and read a number of books on the subject. I developed the habit of sitting in my car and doing a ten or fifteen minute meditation each morning before going into the hospital or into my office. I always ended the session with an exercise I'd learned from Shakti Gawain's Creative Visualizations. Breathing green, healing energy up from the core of the earth, I let it flow through my body and then allowed it to leave through the top of my head. At the same time, I drew the pink, creative energies of the universe in through the top of my head, let them flow through my body, and then drain out from the base of my spine into the center of the earth. The sessions always left me feeling wonderful, but it never occurred to me that I might be able to channel this energy for other people– until there was a need.
One morning as I began my twenty-four-hour shift on labor and delivery, the first patient to be admitted to my service was a fifteen-year-old girl in active labor. She cowered in the back of the bed with her arms wrapped protectively around her body. When a contraction hit, she screamed, threw her arms in the air and began writhing about the bed. Her only support was the baby's father, a boy who appeared to be barely out of adolescence. His hand shook when he reached out to comfort the girl.
Until the girl calmed down enough so that we could start an IV, I couldn't give her any pain medicine let alone the epidural she was begging for.
I did the only thing I could do to help a patient in this situation. I took her hand in mine, looked into her eyes and began showing her how to slow her breathing as we do in meditation or in Lamaze. Gradually, she stopped writhing in the bed. As we continued to hold hands and take slow, deep breaths, I became aware that I was doing the energy channeling meditation I did in the car every morning, only this time something was different. Instead of letting the energy run out through the top of my head and the base of my spine, I had been drawing the energy into my heart. I could feel it moving from my heart, down my arm and into her hand. My patient became calm and still, a poster child for Lamaze! At that point, we did offer her the epidural she had requested earlier. She lay quietly in my arms while the epidural was inserted and then slept until it was time to deliver her son.
From that day on, I did the "energy channeling exercise" whenever I had a patient in distress. It always worked, but sometimes, at the end of those sessions, I felt totally depleted, as if, instead of bringing up energy from the earth, I had been giving away my own life force. I never discussed this new skill with anyone in the hospital. Being in the ultra-conservative environment of a large HMO practice based in a university hospital, I was afraid that people would think I was crazy, and I'd lose my job.
A turning point came when a new gynecology patient arrived at my office for her annual exam.
"Oh, good. You're a woman. I couldn't tell for sure when I read your name in the provider manual, but your name seemed to light up before my eyes so I knew you were the one I was supposed to see."
As she leaned forward to sit in the chair I had offered, I noticed a large medallion with some sort of symbols carved on it hanging from a chain around her neck.
"That looks very powerful," I said.
She got this secret little smile, "Oh, I do hands on healing."
Without any worry over what she might think, or what it might mean to my continued employment, I began telling this woman, this patient I had met only moments earlier, about my own experiences channeling energy for my patients in the hospital. After twenty minutes or so, I finished my tale feeling somehow relieved to have finally opened up to someone.
She smiled. "What I do will make what you do work much better." Theresa was a Reiki master. Until that moment, I had never even heard of Reiki, but somehow I knew that this woman spoke the truth and that she was to be important in my life. Theresa became my teacher and, indeed, what she taught me did make what I was already doing work much better. With Reiki I no longer had to concentrate on channeling energy in order to make it flow, I only had to lay down my hands and Reiki would flow of its own accord. Perhaps even more important, there was no longer a risk of being depleted. I received all the Reiki I needed every time I gave a treatment so I went home feeling invigorated, even after a thirty-six hour shift.
After learning Reiki, I placed my hands on every labor patient, giving her the opportunity to draw Reiki energy through me, to ease her pain and hasten her labor. They always seemed to feel better and I no longer felt depleted as I once had at the end of a session. But still, I hesitated to tell people what I was doing.
Finally, a situation arrived where there was no choice but to come out in the open about energy medicine. I came onto labor wing one morning and assumed the care of sixteen-year-old Maria who had been laboring all night with her first baby. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she frantically gripped her mother's hand. When I examined Maria, her cervix was no farther dilated than it had been on admission, six hours earlier. If that wasn't bad enough, her baby was so large that its head had never even come to rest in her pelvis. I feared this young woman would require a Caesarian section to deliver her child. Hoping that it might simply be a case of the contractions not being strong enough to deliver the baby, I spoke to Maria and her mother about giving her an epidural for pain and then starting a drip with pitocin, a drug that would make her contractions stronger and closer together. Tired as she was, she was adamant in her refusal. She had been through Lamaze and was determined to have natural childbirth. Feeling that a natural delivery was impossible without some kind of intervention, and being unable to use any of the tools Western medicine had to offer, there was only one other thing I could do to try to help this young woman.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed the fear of being ridiculed or even losing my job out of my mind and said, "Well, I recently learned to do this thing called Reiki. It's an ancient hands-on healing art. The only thing I can guarantee is that it will cause no harm, but it may take some of the pain away and help you to relax so you can deliver your baby.
Her face lit up. "Oh yes! My Abuelita always used her hands to take away the pain when I was little. Please do this Reiki for me."
She lay back. Standing behind the head of the bed, I lifted my hands to her temples. I could feel the energy pour through my hands like a thick fluid. Within moments, her shoulders relaxed back into the mattress, her eyes closed and she drifted off to sleep. A short time later, Maria was fully dilated and started to push. Normally it takes about two hours for a woman to push out her first baby, but after only 45 minutes, and without requiring an episiotomy, Maria pushed out her ten-pound-twelve-ounce son.
From that day on, I offered Reiki to all my labor and surgery patients. Amazing things started to happen. Women slept through the first half of labor, a time when there is a lot of pain but we can't offer pain medicine for fear it will stop the labor. Some women slept through their entire labor with only Reiki for pain control. Women who had previous caesarian sections for seven pound babies deemed too large to fit though their pelvis were having vaginal deliveries of nine and ten pound babies. My c-section rate declined from five or six per month to no more than one per month. My surgery patients were going home one or two days after major operations, their hospital stays a day or two shorter than expected, and they were requiring much less pain medication than other patients.
It was like a dream come true. I was able to make patients feel better with the mere touch of my hand. And yet, everyone was not happy with my use of Reiki on labor wing. Some nurses were making snide remarks to each other and, in at least one case, to patients.
It was a patient who brought this problem to my attention. Actually, Angela was more than just a patient. After weekly visits throughout a very high-risk pregnancy, she had become my friend. When Angela was admitted to the hospital to deliver her son, she walked into the room and suddenly her entire body began to shake as she stared into space, her eyes focused on some demon that only she could see. The last time she had been in that hospital was the day her young niece had died there. The sounds and smells of the hospital had triggered all the old, painful memories.
I took her hand. We spoke softly for a few minutes and then I offered her a Reiki treatment. Reiki quickly calmed her down. After the treatment, I walked out of the room to answer a page. About four hours later, in a room filled with smiles and joyful tears, she delivered a beautiful little boy. I couldn't imagine a more perfect birthing experience but, as I was to learn, one person in the room had a very different opinion.
The next morning when I made my rounds Angela told me, "Jeri, I just thought you ought to know. When you left the room after my Reiki treatment yesterday, the nurse came up to my bed with her hands on her hips and the little witch said; "I hope you weren't offended by what she just did. I just want you to know that is NOT the standard of care in this institution."
"I looked her right back in the eye and said, "Well it should be!""
Slowly attitudes started to shift. In my office where the staff was a tight knit group, I began telling my Reiki stories each morning. At first everyone just smiled, patted me on the head and told me that patients probably did well simply because I was a nice lady who spent a lot of time with them. But I began offering to fix owies in the office: headaches, sore backs, a painful cyst in one nurse's wrist. Soon the nurses came to realize that there was something real about the healing powers of Reiki. When one of them was hurting, instead of reaching for the Tylenol bottle, they began asking me for help. And then, instead of laughing at my Reiki stories, they began repeating them to their friends.
Each of the doctors I worked with had a different reaction when I began using Reiki in our practice. Elin came to my home for Reiki treatments, but could never remember the name of "that thing Jeri does" when she was speaking to other doctors. Joe laughed at me and implied that women were gullible and not very smart. Jack was quiet and respectful. Alan and his wife both became my Reiki students. They use Reiki at home almost every day. In spite of his appreciation for Reiki, in seven years Alan has never offered Reiki to his patients.
In the hospital, I began offering "sample treatments" to nurses and doctors. After experiencing Reiki, many of them eventually asked me to help their patients at times when the resources of Western medicine just weren't enough.
One morning, in the pre-anesthesia room, as I used Reiki to calm a patient and prepare her for surgery, a nurse rushed up with a radiant smile on her face.
"Oh how wonderful! I'm a healing touch practitioner myself. Actually there's a whole group of us here at the hospital. We meet and give each other treatments once a month, but most of us have never offered healings to our patients because we're afraid the doctors would be angry."
I invited her to join me and, together, we performed a healing that left my patient so peaceful and relaxed we had to wake her when it was time to be moved into the operating room.
In the recovery area, again, responses were mixed. In the big, open room filled with a dozen or more patients attached to respirators, electronic heart monitors, and IV poles I would approach my own patient, still attached to machines and monitors herself, and lay on hands for a postoperative Reiki session. Some nurses and doctors came to ask what I was doing, and I quietly told them about Reiki. Others chose to take a longer than necessary path around the room in order to stay well clear of me and that voo-doo stuff I was doing.
For months, nurses asked and observed, but generally remained uninvolved when I did my healing work. Then one day a dramatic labor room experience caused a shift in their attitudes. My partner had sent a young woman into the hospital for an emergency induction of labor. The patient was high risk, suffering from a condition that caused her to have a dangerously low platelet count. At an ultrasound exam that day, it had been discovered that there was no more amniotic fluid around her baby. There was a concern that, if the patient remained pregnant, the baby would eventually roll over, crush the umbilical cord and die in utero.
When she arrived at the hospital, I introduced myself to the patient and admitted her. Once she had been hooked up to a fetal monitor so we would know immediately if the baby got into trouble, we stared a pitocin drip. The patient slept for several hours, then woke, four centimeters dilated, in early labor, and in considerable pain. She asked for an epidural. I couldn't give her one because, with her low platelet count, the needle could cause bleeding into her spine. At only four centimeters, I was hesitant to give her very much IV pain medication because it might stop her labor. I finally decided to give her five milligrams of Nubain, a dose that would help her to relax, but was unlikely to stop her labor, and, in all honesty, was also not likely to do a whole lot to relieve her pain. And then I offered her a Reiki treatment.
Standing behind the head of the bed, I raised my hands to her temples and Reiki began to flow. In a soft voice, I started to lead her through a guided meditation.
"Imagine your baby moving through a dark tunnel. The walls of the tunnel are gradually melting away as the baby slowly moves toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Now visualize the baby snuggled safely in your arms. Let the baby see that she is safe. Tell her that you love her and ask her to come out and meet you."
Within moments, my patient was sound asleep.
Darn, I thought. I must have given her too much medication and stopped her labor.
I turned to the labor wing nurse who was able to see the fetal monitor that was hidden from my view as I stood behind the bed. "Have her contractions stopped?"
She had a strange, almost uneasy expression on her face. "NO, they're every two minutes."
I continued my treatment. About twenty minutes later, as I reached the patient's feet, I noticed that she had begun to breathe hard and fast with the last contraction. The thought crossed my mind that she might be ready to deliver, but the logical part of my brain reminded me that twenty minute labors are incredibly intense and women just don't sleep through something like that with only five milligrams of Nubain for pain relief. When she breathed heavily with the next contraction, I ignored my logical mind and quietly asked my patient if she thought she might be ready to push.
The nurse looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
Ignoring her, I put on a glove and lifted the blankets from my patient's legs. Looking down, I saw a four-inch circle of baby's head protruding from the mother's vulva.
"Your baby is ready to be born. Do you think you can hold on for a minute while we open some instruments."
"Oh sure," she answered in a sleepy voice.
I quickly pulled on a pair of gloves while the nurse ripped open an emergency birthing kit. With one push, a beautiful little girl was delivered into my hands. After clamping the cord, I placed the newborn on her mother's belly. The infant began to wriggle and, to my astonishment, seemed to crawl up to her mother's chest
"Well, you did tell her to come out and meet her mother," the nurse reminded me.
The following morning, as I entered the hospital elevator ready to make rounds, I ran into a nurse just coming off the night shift. "Dr. Mills, the whole labor wing is still talking about what you did yesterday morning. CAN YOU TEACH US?"
And, indeed, before leaving that hospital to start a private practice in a nearby town, I did teach a Reiki class for a group of labor and delivery nurses. Later that year, I was invited to speak to the Ob-Gyn class at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, and, the week before I moved to New Mexico, I was invited to address the radiation oncology support group at the same hospital.
In the process of introducing Reiki at our hospital I had one advantage that most Reiki practitioners in hospitals do not have. I was a doctor, and I had worked in that hospital long enough to establish my reputation as a competent and capable physician long before I began openly giving Reiki treatments there. Being a physician made me immune to hospital policies that dictate the actions of nurses and other staff. In many institutions nurses have to wait for administrative decisions permitting them to use Reiki in the hospital. For them it can be a much more arduous journey.
Progress has been slow by some standards, but there are Reiki volunteers in the oncology and hospice units now. More and more nurses and support staff have become Reiki practitioners. Some still work silently, afraid that discussing the healing work they do will cause problems with their peers or bring condemnation from doctors or administration, but they practice Reiki in the hospital. Their patients benefit and, on special days, they tell me their stories.
The doors are opening one by one in hospitals and medical centers around the country. When the progress doesn't seem fast enough to me, I force myself to remember the Reiki principles: "Just for today..."