Page last updated at 18:18 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 19:18 UK

Pain-free alternative to anaesthetics?

By David Fenton
Health Correspondent, BBC South

Alex Lenkei
Mr Lenkei said he was aware of what was going on around him
"I'm glad I did it - it felt ace!"

That's how a registered hypnotherapist described an operation on his thumb - without any anaesthetic.

Surgeons cut, sawed and chiselled a bone out of the hand of Alex Lenkei.

But the 61-year-old didn't feel a thing after putting himself into a trance ahead of the 80-minute operation at Worthing and Southlands Hospital is West Sussex.

"It took about 30 seconds to a minute for me to put myself under," he said.

"I was aware of what was going on around me, I could hear the surgeon talking but I couldn't feel any pain.

"I remember at one point the surgeon asked for a saw, and I had images of this big thing like you get at B&Q - then he said, 'No not that one, the little one', and I thought oh, that's all right then."

Smashed bone

Mr Lenkei needed surgery to remove a bone about the size of a walnut from the base of his thumb.

The surgeon, David Llewellyn-Clark, smashed the bone with a special chisel, then sawed the bone ends and cleared the debris with snippers.

Throughout the operation consultant anaesthetist Dr Richard Venn was on hand to give pain relief - if it was needed.

Both doctors said the process by which a body can shut out pain by hypnosis is not well understood.

Thumb X-ray
Surgeons removed a bone the size of a walnut from the base of the thumb

"Presumably what happened is that his own body released a lot of pain killing chemicals that prevented him feeling pain during the operation," said Dr Venn.

"What was interesting was that I was monitoring his heart, blood pressure and breathing rate all the time and they stayed exactly the same throughout - so he certainly wasn't experiencing any pain."

Dr Llewellyn-Clark believes there could be a place for hypnosis in NHS treatment.

It was the first time he had operated on anyone under hypnosis.

He added: "I think this is possibly the extreme case of what can be done with hypnosis; but some people are very anxious about being given an anaesthetic so I'm always looking to find alternatives."

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