Roadtrip 8: Thanksgiving in Virginia, waking hypnosis and suggestibility of drunks


I tried for cooperation

In a man with inebriation

    Not out of the question

   With waking suggestion

He thought he was out on vacation.

More than thirty years ago, as a medical student I did a month rotation at a remote location in a western state.  I got help and supervision when I asked for it, but I took my share of call.  One evening an inebriated man came in after a knife fight with a number of cuts on his face.  For the sake of the story, I’ll call him Paul, because he didn’t go by that name. 

At the time, instantaneous breath alcohol level testing remained in the realm of science fiction, so I can’t quantify his level of drunkenness.  But the amount of alcohol he’d ingested prevented him from remembering three things for five minutes.  He didn’t want to cooperate, and even if he’d wanted to, he forgot instructions in half that time.

Pharmacology taught us that alcohol makes a person more suggestible.  The third time I asked him not to pull the surgical drape off, I pushed back and I said, “Paul, you look pretty tired to me.  Are you feeling tired?  You look like you might need to take a nap.  Would you like to take a nap?  It’s OK, if you want to just lay back.  We have a really comfortable bed right here.  Go ahead, take a nap.”  His eyes shut as he lay back abruptly and started to snore.  Two or three minutes later he tried to sit up and fight, and I repeated myself.  Sometimes I told him he’d forgotten his head was glued to the pillow.  (I can still remember the lacerations: two on the forehead, one on the left cheek, one on the upper lip, and two on the scalp.)  It took me an hour and a half; I compared the process to trying to tattoo the Mona Lisa on the back of a running buffalo.

I had never tried waking suggestion or hypnosis before, my first try succeeded beyond my expectations.  I’ve told the tale many times since.  It’s a good story, appropriate for medical and non-medical audiences; I use body language to show myself a callow medical student, and I use the tonal nuance of my voice to demonstrate how I felt when I believed in a principle but lacked experience.

The family gathering for Thanksgiving in Virginia included (among others) my daughter Jesse, currently in her second year of family practice residency.  As we finished turkey, gravy (see yesterday’s post), mashed potatoes and stuffing, she told about using waking hypnosis on an intoxicated, combative patient to render him cooperative so she could sew up facial cuts.  Three minutes after she finished, the patient started fighting and busting the joint up. 

We slapped high fives for the joys of waking hypnosis.

In the age of the internet, connectivity, and information retrieval, the story remains the quantum unit of teaching.

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3 Responses to “Roadtrip 8: Thanksgiving in Virginia, waking hypnosis and suggestibility of drunks”

  1. Is Hypnosis Real? Is It A Sham? » Is Hypnosis Real Says:

    […] Roadtrip 8: Thanksgiving in Virginia, waking hypnosis and suggestibility of drunks « Walkabout… […]

  2. walkaboutdoc Says:

    Yes, hypnosis is real, it doesn’t work on everyone, it’s a very useful tool in the right hands for the right circumstances.

  3. kaitlin Says:

    makes me want to drink alchoholic beverages

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