Program puts patients in control

Allen Dec, a certified music practitioner, regularly plays his harp to patients as part of the Integrative Care Program at Winchester Medical Center. The program includes complementary services to help patients ease stress while receiving treatment for illnesses or other medical conditions. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — April Adams remembers the day she thought up the Integrative Care Program at Winchester Medical Center in Winchester.

She had worked there for two weeks as coordinator of Women’s & Children’s Services when her boss came to her with a bad headache. Hoping to banish the headache, her boss, Janet Nordling, intended to shut herself in her dark office for a while, but Adams proposed a second solution: Reiki therapy.

Adams had already been a Reiki practitioner for 11 years, and after the quick, impromptu session, Nordling turned to her in surprise.

“‘Whatever that is, we need it at the hospital,'” Adams recalled Nordling telling her. “So I figured out how.”

Three years later, the program has expanded to much more than what Adams had intended it to be, now also incorporating music therapy and therapeutic music, aromatherapy, expressive art, animal-assisted therapy, energetic therapies, Quigong and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

Some of these therapies already existed at the hospital, she said, “(but) we’ve just brought everything under one program.”

Reiki is an ancient Japanese technique that inspires stress reduction and pain management through the use of compassionate, light touch and energetic intervention.

It’s part of Valley Health’s energetic therapies, which also recently added a clinical study to record the effects of Integrative Energetic Medicine on cancer patients. Adams hopes to study up to 250 patients in 50 sessions each over a two-year period. Though patients with any type of abdominal cancer may apply to be part of the study, she said initially the study will accept only patients of Dr. Patrick Wagner, surgical oncologist with Valley Health.

“What we are hoping to find is improved quality of life,” Adams said, adding that this is the first-ever clinical study on the effects of Integrative Energetic Medicine. Its goal is to help patients reduce their pain and levels of medication and/or experience better sleep.

“Integrative care is growing across the nation,” Adams said. It’s particularly popular at cancer centers, where she said such patients have a lot of stress that can be alleviated, at least in part, through various forms of therapeutic efforts that complement other medical treatments.

When you have cancer, she said, “You kind of feel like you’ve lost control of your life.” Even after treatment, she said those with a chronic or degenerative illness often search for ways of helping themselves. That’s where the Integrative Care Program can lend a hand.

Many are looking to reduce stress, while others seek to confront symptoms of pain, said Shell Fischer, who teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to hospital staff and their patients. But although she’s witnessed patients reduce or even eliminate the need for other ways of treating their pain, she said her program doesn’t work in the way people might think.

Patients aren’t willing themselves well, she said, and those with chronic pain are not ignoring or trying to mask their pain. Instead, they embrace their pain and accept how their illnesses or other medical conditions make them feel.

“Your pain is not going to change, but your relationship to it does,” Fischer said.

“It’s about allowing the pain, becoming curious about it,” she said. “If you’re curious about it and allow it, you’re better able to live with it or relate to it.”

“It’s very much a mind-body practice,” she said.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was started 35 years ago by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. About 800 hospitals nationwide use the program, Fischer said, and in Winchester, patients can choose from an eight-week program of 2 ½-hour sessions, or a seven-hour retreat of silent meditation.

Other parts of the Integrative Care Program also aim to reduce stress in patients.

Art therapy allows patients to express their feelings through a constructive form of physical and emotional therapy, while aromatherapy uses pure essential oils to present a calming atmosphere for patients.

Therapeutic music sessions and music therapy are also available for patients.

Therapeutic music helps calm patients, while music therapy administered by clinically trained music therapists uses music toward a specific result. Music performed at the hospital is soothing, although patients may also work through emotions on various percussion instruments in therapeutic music sessions.

The Integrative Care Program offers in- and out-patient therapies based on patient needs or requests, and Fischer said patients can opt for as much or as little as they want.

“(It’s) taking charge of your own health care,” she said. “Because there’s so much that you can do with your mind and body.”

Contact the Integrative Care Program at 540-536-4126, ext. 64126. For more information on the study, The Effects of Integrative Energy Medicine Therapy on Patients Undergoing Surgery for Abdominal Malignancy, call Dr. Patrick Wagner’s office at 540-536-4126.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com