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Hospital tries a “mindful” approach to patients’ pain

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A metro hospital is trying a novel approach to alleviating patients' pain and suffering. Robin Todd doesn't carry pain medicine into rooms at the University of Kansas Hospital. She helps patients find some in their own minds.

"It's about training our brains to be in the present moment," Todd told Donald Oliverius, a patient.

That can be hard for Oliverius because of severe chronic pain from spina bifida and other health issues. He also has acute pain from recent surgery.

"It makes you want to just break through these walls, just climb out of here," said Oliverius.

That's even with drugs for his pain. Todd's role is to help Oliverius pay attention to something else. It's called mindfulness. She asked him to close his eyes and simply breathe.

"You've been breathing since you were born," she said to him.

Then she asked him to picture the words "just" and "this."

"So you're going to breathe in "'just" and breathe out "this," she added. .

Todd is with Turning Point, The Center for Hope and Healing. It offers many programs outside the hospital for people with serious or chronic disease. This is the center's first effort for in-patients. It's also helping nurses see that pain isn't only a physical issue.

"They've just become more aware of that emotional pain," said Carrie Armstrong, a nurse educator at K.U. Hospital.

The project started March 1. The coordinator says already, the hospital has seen a big improvement on patients' ratings of how well their pain was treated.

"They've gone off the chart actually. They're pretty unprecedented, so we'll see," said Lesli Hill of Turning Point.

Patients get cards to remind them of mindfulness techniques.

"It actually works," said Oliverius.

He says it's given him some hope that he can make it through the day.

Patients in a different unit at K.U. Hospital are receiving massage therapy. It will be compared to mindfulness. Results after three months will determine whether either becomes a standard part of care for patients in pain.

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