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While in Surgery, Do You Prefer Abba or Verdi?
The surgeon in Operating Room 7, Dr. Marc Bessler, played "White Shadows" by Coldplay while A resident cut away tissue near the kidney. Abba's "Waterloo" came next in the shuffle.
It was a normal day at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, where music fills the operating rooms much of the time, as it does in other hospitals. Like most of modern life, surgery has acquired a soundtrack, whether it be Sinatra or Vivaldi, Mozart or Bob Marley, "La Bohème" or the Beatles. Surgeons say it relaxes them, focuses their attention and helps pass the time.
Mention of the subject in medical journals goes back 50 years, and a growing body of recent research shows mild benefits for the patient going under the knife as well as for the surgeon holding it.
Music can become a subtle bone of contention among the members of the surgical team or a practical aid. Loud rock 'n' roll is good for routine operations, they say, Mozart for trickier ones. There is even a genre called "closing music": raucous sounds to suture by.
Many operating rooms come equipped with music equipment, although iPods now appear to be the system of choice. Some patients are given headphones. (Surgeons generally do not use them, so they can hear what is going on.) Sophisticated teleconferencing equipment in some operating theaters is occasionally drafted to play music.
"The whole issue of performing in a finite period of time is very analogous between the music and performing surgery," said Dr. Eric Rose, chairman of the department of surgery at the Columbia University Medical Center. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the operating room is called a theater, he said.
Many dentists and surgeons have adopted music into their practice.
Dr. Nas Eftekhar, a retired pioneer of hip and knee replacements, used Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" to mark the exact moments to apply cement to the femur and insert the artificial joint. "The timing is extremely critical," he said.
But at least five studies published in the last dozen years show benefits to surgeons and patients from music.
One showed that it made no difference in the results of psychomotor tests on anesthesiologist trainees. Another found that surgeons could block out music during complex tasks. Music made surgeons calmer, more accurate and speedier, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994. Music through headphones reduced the amount of sedation needed for urological patients and lowered the blood pressure of elderly eye-surgery patients, other studies found.