(from the Turkish Daily News)
Patients of the cardiac surgery intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital are treated with Sufi music therapy. The department’s medical specialist Erol Can, a Bulgarian immigrant of Turkish descent, tries to heal his patients through playing the ney, a traditional Sufi instrument. The tranquilizing sound of Sufi music echoes in the cardiac surgery intensive care unit of Istanbul’s private Memorial Hospital where patients undergo Sufi music therapy as part of their treatment.
Medical specialist Erol Can, who pioneered this treatment, was a member of the Turkish community in Bulgaria who were forced to migrate to Turkey in the 1980s. Upon his arrival, Can began researching the effects of the sound of the reed flute (ney) on the mental and physical health of his patients.
Each day, while sitting next to one of his patients, Can played the ney and tried to see whether it had any effect on the patient’s heart rhythm and blood pressure. After a series of experiments, he proved that Sufi music had positive effects on each patient’s health condition.
“We got negative results only for one patient,” said Can, noting that the patient was suffering from post-surgery depression at the time.
This led Can to undertake further research, where he found that some parts of certain musical genres have negative effects on the individual.
“Some parts are not suitable for patients who suffer from depression,” he said. He later decided to ask his patients which musical genre they prefer.
Can had received a number of medals by Bulgarian authorities before the forced migration took place. He also hold a dozen of honorary diplomas, his name is on patented projects and he is the author of some 60 scientific articles so far.
A cardiovascular specialist playing the ney
Can is a graduate of the Medical University of Varna in Bulgaria. “I was not able to use my real name. The name that the Bulgarian state gave me was Emil Sariyef. And I just had to work two times harder than those genuine Bulgarians in order to be successful,” said Can. H managed to accomplish the impossible in the field of medicine and graduated with a perfect score of 100/100.
“This was a kind of response to the discrimination imposed by the Bulgarian state,” he said.
In 1989, when he was a PhD student, Can was subjected to forced migration from Bulgaria to Turkey. “Half of the members of my family were left behind. Moreover, I learned at the last moment that my mother had cancer,” he said.
But Can also encountered problems upon his arrival in Turkey. “I was penniless. I had to start my life from the beginning. Furthermore, there was a huge cultural gap between me and the new social environment I was surrounded by,” he said, noting that at that point he began using music as a remedy for himself.
This is not surprising as Can was born into a musician family and has always been drawn to music ever since his early childhood years during which he learned to play many musical instruments.
The Florance Nightingale Hospital in Istanbul was the first institution in Turkey where Can began to practice medicine.
He then continued his career at the cardiac surgery intensive care unit of Memorial Hospital. This was where he performed his initial music therapies with the ney.
“Once I played the ney for an unconscious patient of mine. When he regained consciousness I asked him how he felt and he told me he had found himself listening to peaceful music in heaven,” said Can.
Music therapy an Eastern tradition
Can said music has always been a significant part of rituals and ceremonies at special instances like births and deaths throughout history, since the early Pagan times. For him, its positive effects on the human soul cannot be denied.
He said he borrowed the music therapy method from the Orient. “In the Medieval times, while some patients used to be burned in the West because they used to be perceived as souls possessed by evil, experts in the East were treating their patients with music and water therapies,” he said.
Specifically, the sound produced by the ney and the kemençe (the Eastern equivalent of the fiddle) is the closest to the human voice and therefore gives the human soul a feeling of peace and serenity, he added.
Not so long ago, Can himself underwent heart bypass surgery. As he was preparing for the operation, he wanted to hear the sound of the ney. “My blood pressure had jumped to 160 for I was quite nervous before I listened to the ney sound. But after I listened to it, I took my blood pressure again and it was 130,” he said, referring to his personal experience of ney therapy.
A mere hours after he awoke, Can began playing the ney as though he had just taken some painkillers.