Another first-person account of music during surgery!

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Jane Zellmer was anxious about her second knee replacement surgery.

The first surgery on her left knee was done under general anesthesia. She said she doesn’t do well under general anesthesia, and she had a difficult time waking up and was nauseous the first time.

This time the 54-year-old Ettrick, Wis., woman wanted spinal anesthesia, which would allow her to be conscious while numbing her right knee.

Zellmer also chose music to help with her anxiety and make her relax. Mike Jacobson, a nurse anesthetist at Franciscan Skemp, had a library of music from which she could pick. She chose her favorite music, country, and a favorite artist, George Strait.

With her headphones on, she listened to Strait’s music during surgery.

“It was very calming listening to the music, and I was comfortable,” Zellmer said. “I was nervous about the spinal anesthesia, but the music helped me relax.

“I felt like I was lying in the sun with headphones on,” she said. “Music did its thing, and it was a place to go, something to escape into. The spinal anesthesia and music worked real well together.”

For several years, a number of hospitals, including Franciscan Skemp and Gundersen Lutheran, have offered music to patients during surgery. Zellmer heard about the use of music through a friend who listened to music during surgery at Gundersen Lutheran.

More and more hospitals are using music for patients because research is showing it helps reduce moderate pain and anxiety, and it might result in less sedation and faster recovery.

A Yale University showed patients listening to music required much less sedation during surgery. Another study showed listening to music helps minimize the rise in blood pressure associated with surgery. Researchers say the best results are likely to come from people being able to listen to the music of their own choice rather than being given music thought to be soothing.

For many years, surgery rooms have been filled with the sound of music selected by and for surgeons.

“Music often helps surgeons relax, and some like it for background music,” Jacobson said. “One surgeon likes very loud rock ’n’ roll.

“Patients have their own music option, but it’s the surgeon’s choice in the room,” he said. “I’ve never been asked what I want to hear, but I think whatever music helps the surgeon is a good choice.”

Dr. Mark Connelly, a Gundersen Lutheran facial plastic surgeon, has played music in his operating room for more than 25 years. He has a CD of Broadway show tunes, pop, country and classical music.

“The music is soothing, and it helps me relax,” Connelly said.

“Occasionally, the staff will sing along to ‘Stand By Your Man,’” he said. “Surgeons get to choose the music, but it’s nice when the operating group likes it.”

Jacobson is one of the DJs at Franciscan Skemp. He is in charge of a cart of CDs from which patients can choose, or they can bring in their own CDs.

“Some people like country, some like classical and some New Age, but more patients like soothing music,” Jacobson said. “Music does help calm the patient.”

Dr. Marisa Baorto, a Franciscan Skemp anesthesiologist, said music is used in conjunction with “conscious sedation,” such as spinal and regional anesthesia, for surgeries such as foot, carpal tunnel, knee replacement and breast biopsies.

Baorto said some pregnant women bring in their own music to listen to during labor.

“A lot of patients enjoy the music, and then they don’t have to hear what’s going on in surgery,” Baorto said. “Music helps them phase out and get less sedation.”

Jacobson said he can tell the difference in patients who enjoy the music.

“We can tell the patient is more calm,” Jacobson said. “I don’t think it is fluff. There are benefits to the patient, even some benefits during general anesthesia.”

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About the Author:

Dr. Alice Cash is one of the world’s few clinical musicologists. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, she brings to her work over 40 years of professional experience as a college professor, clinical therapist, solo and chamber music performer and composer. Since 1990, Dr. Cash has been in the field of Music Medicine and conducted clinical research at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, under the guidance of Dr. Joel Elkes, Dr. Leah Dickstein, and Dr. Rif El-Mallakh. Her clinical work at the University of Louisville lead to her career in music medicine. In addition to her work with the University of Louisville, Dr. Cash lead the development of using music a hospital setting at Baptist East Hospital, Louisvile, KY. She has founded 3 companies: Healing Music Enterprises, Surgical Serenity Solutions and Crescent Hill Counseling.

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