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Monday, November 24, 2008

Music in the OR

Music is everywhere, even in the hospital OR (Operating Room). But what genre or sub-genre of music should be on the playlist?: Techno, Bluegrass, Heavy-Metal, Classical, R&B, or Rap? And who decides, the patient or the medical staff?

In 1994 the NY Times reported that surgeons "did better" when they heard music that they preferred...
...surgeons' faith in music was bolstered recently by the results of a study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study concluded that surgeons were likely to do a better job when working to the accompaniment of music they liked. The 50 doctors tested had lower blood pressure and pulse rates and performed better on nonsurgical mental exercises while listening to their favorite musical selections.
In some hospitals, the anesthesiologist takes on the function of "DJ of the operating room" - selecting the "tracks to relax."

Years ago, when I had outpatient surgery at Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital, the music blaring from the boom box was an annoying variant of "adult" rock. The OR was crowded, and the surgical team (which included several young medical students), played their musical selections rather loudly.

The doctors had given me permission to listen to my own music on the personal headphones and portable CD player I had brought along. I had preselected the Elliott Carter Double Concerto as my surgical entertainment. Carter's complex concerto kept my mind distracted from the worries of the medical procedure. Fully conscious and alert, my musical experience was intense and unconditional - despite the "cocktail" of Valium and other industrial-strength meds intravenously flowing into my bloodstream.

The assortment of hi-tech machinery around me, either beeped sporadically, or drew squiggly lines on a roll of slowly rotating graph paper to methodically document changes in my vital signs. I could view the changes real-time, and I assumed the patterns were charting my blood-pressure and heart-rate. In my mind, the graphs seemed to correspond perfectly to the formal design of Carter's Double Concerto. Somehow my biology was synchronized with the intricate and controlled musical architecture of the piece. It was the right selection for the situation. As I had anticipated, my nerves were somehow calmed by the frenetic nervousness of Carter's music. It may be counter-intuitive, but its' hyper-activity provided security and comfort.

Ever since then, I have sought out music that is life-affirming rather than an opiate.

The science behind the therapeutic affect of music on humans is still in its infancy. But music may play an important role in our well-being and general health. I've convinced of that.