Notes From Nestipac

By Phyllis Rauch

Medical Music


mozart2It’s November and I’ve just celebrated another birthday. It’s likely that I will experience at least as many visits to the Dr. and dentist in the coming year as in the last. Whatever this year brings in the way of medical events or surprises, one thing’s for sure: I’ll be taking along my iPod.

You might say I’m offering some medical advice in this column. Of course I’m not going to recommend a doctor or suggest which medicines to take. My advice is about how to reduce your stress, fears, even boredom when faced with a variety of medical situations.

I didn’t have an iPod yet when I first drew upon music to help me in a medical setting. I was scheduled for an echocardiogram—otherwise known as a chemical stress test. A year or so prior to this I had driven a friend to the same hospital for the same test. After half an hour I was called in to the doctor’s office to comfort my usually unflappable friend, who was in tears.

As I lay down to be injected for my own stress test, knowing my heart would soon start to beat faster and faster, I was prepared. I had planned to utilize my favorite breathing exercise: inhale on 4 counts, hold for 7, exhale for 8. This exercise has always had a reliably calming effect. Just as the Dr. was coming toward me in the tiny, cramped room, injection in hand, I spontaneously asked, “Would you happen to have any music in here?”

He replied, “What would you like, Frank Sinatra or Mozart?”

“Mozart, please,” I said, smiling.

The combination of Mozart and Dr. Weil’s breathing exercise was perfect. Yes, I was aware the echocardiogram was taking place and that my heartbeat was increasing, but when the nurse gently tapped me on the shoulder to tell me it was all over, I was pleasantly surprised. Thus I learned the power of medical music.

Next I brought my iPod with me into a sterile operating room at the hospital. I was prepared to have it politely ripped from my hand. It couldn’t be standard procedure to bring your own music to an angioplasty. The surgical team and nurses couldn’t have been nicer. They knew that angioplasty is an invasive and slightly scary procedure. I imagine they thought that anything that distracted me, gave me a sense of control and made me a more amenable patient was fine with them.

My favorite harp CD (a gift from my late husband) soothed and delighted me, as usual. At one point the doctors told me they were actually good singers themselves. I offered to turn off the iPod and listen to them instead, but they wisely decided that wasn’t the best idea.

Recently, the iPod was simply shuffling through my 1600 songs while the dentist inserted a new crown. I was enjoying the surprises that turn up in the shuffle mode: classical, latin, jazz, modern. The volume must have been turned up louder than usual because the dentist remarked, “That’s John Lennon.”

Later, getting up to leave, I said, “Are you a Lennon fan?”

“Haven’t you seen Lennon’s drawing of himself, silk-screened and signed by Yoko Ono? It’s hanging in another office.” We went to look at the print, accompanied by a Lennon poster. Probably I’m not the only one of the patients to have missed this artistic detail until now. One never knows what medical music will lead to.

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