As Victor Fabry napped in his hospital bed, a quiet symphony filled his room. The steady pulse of a cardiac monitor marked the progress of his mending heart. Over that beat, the swaying strains of a Brazilian guitarist pumped nearly nonstop from a CD player on the shelf.
For nine days after his surgery at the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute in Morristown, N.J., Fabry soaked up that tranquil, wordless strumming. And while he praised his surgeon, he raved about the musical score that accompanied his recovery.
His heart literally fell in rhythm with guitarist Tomaz Lima. The music became his medicine.
“Very restful, very soothing,” said Fabry, 68, now almost two years removed from the surgery. Immediately after his operation, a live harpist also played at his bedside. “The mind influences your recovery. Anything that quiets your anxiety is powerful.”
Listen carefully and you’ll hear the same refrain at a rising number of hospitals. From Massachusetts General to the Mayo Clinic, patients are hearing the first strains of a harmonious movement — the infusion and inclusion of music in the treatment of ailments, from brain disorders to cancer. This goes beyond the psychological smile favorite songs can induce.
Doctors are increasingly studying — and employing — the physiological dance music does with the body’s neurons and blood-carrying cells.
“We’re in the infancy,” said Dr. Ali Rezai, director of the Center for Neurological Restoration at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic. During a surgery called deep brain stimulation — performed while patients with Parkinson’s disease are awake — Rezai and his team play classical compositions and measure the brain’s response to those notes. “We know music can calm, influence creativity, can energize. That’s great. But music’s role in recovering from disease is being ever more appreciated.”
I noticed that after an entire day of working on the same song in my studio that my heart was exactly synchronized to the beat. It startled me to realize this.