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East Meets West in the Operating Room

A growing trend in American medicine has both Eastern and Western medicine working side by side in the operating room, say experts. CBS Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.


When doctors told Judith Yeargin that her breast cancer had returned and that she needed another mastectomy, she said no. "It wasn't even a question," she says. "I couldn't go through it again. I would have died."


Her treatment during her first mastectomy had been horrendous. Her body and spirit were both under assault. "It was cruel," says Yeargin. "I left the hospital a week early, because the nurse would wake you up by sort of slapping you on the face to give you a sleeping pill."


Then Judith discovered a program for the mind and body at New York's Beth Israel Hospital. The program included music and touch therapy, as well as guided imagery.


At Beth Israel, alternative treatments reportedly leave a patient feeling relaxed and protected, even in the operating room. Sheldon Feldman, MD, says that the mind-body approach works.


"There are, in fact, things that are true that I have seen with my own eyes to be effective that I can't really explain based on our current frame of knowledge, and that's hard. It's hard to get over that hurdle," says Feldman, Yeargin's doctor and the chief of breast cancer surgery at Beth Israel.


The East meets West approach appears to be gaining wider acceptance in the nation's healthcare system. Programs incorporating holistic therapies now exist in 13% of hospitals in the US.


How do holistic treatments work? Feldman says a relaxed body produces more of the hormones that heal a body faster, with less pain and bleeding. And quicker recoveries, experts say, may mean fewer days in the hospital and less cost for insurance companies.


"The subjective experience with pain has been markedly reduced," says Feldman. "I've had patients who've had mastectomies who've taken Tylenol for a couple days post-op and never used a narcotic."


The approach has certainly worked for Yeargin, who says Beth Israel's alternative treatment made it possible for her to face surgery again. "When you see doctors who are willing to integrate and have open minds, it's a wonderful thing," she says.
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