DEC 22, 2015 4:49 AM PST

Music and Multitasking in the OR

Brain surgery is incredibly complex. When a team of neurosurgeons enters the operating room, it’s all business. Patients are normally under anesthesia and the team needs to concentrate on the delicate task at hand. There is not normally a live performance of soft jazz from a saxophone, much less when the patient is the musician. That all changed recently though in an OR in Spain. There was live music and it was Carlos Aguilera, the patient on the table who was providing it. All while his cranium was cracked open and being worked on.
A sax player recently performed while having brain surgery

Aguilera is a professional musician who has been playing the sax since he was nine years old. He currently plays with an orchestra in Malaga. At a press conference after the sugery Aguilera said, "Two months ago, I was laid out on a stretcher and now I can say life is waiting for me as if I had been born again. Music has accompanied me for more than half my life so when the doctors said we could do this I didn't think twice. Without music I am nothing.” 

Aguilera had his surgery at the Carlos Haya Hospital in Malaga on October 15, 2015. The surgery was quite involved and took almost 12 hours. At one point in the surgery, an OR team member held up the sheet music for the soft jazz song, “Misty.”  Dr. Guillermo Ibanez, a neurosurgeon who performed the operation, told the Daily Mail, "We operated on Carlos like this because he's a professional musician and his working life depends on this activity. It was very important that he played in the final stages of the brain tumour removal, as we were very close to the part of the brain that is the listening cortex” 
 
The stakes are high when it comes to operating on the brain. Different areas in the cortex control things like speech, reading, sight and touch, so surgeons often keep their patients awake to see how the surgery is affecting these functions. In the same month as Aguilera’s surgery, a patient in Cleveland Ohio underwent brain surgery awake, and his operation was carried on live television in 171 countries.
In Brazil, another patient/entertainer played the guitar during his surgery, so that his doctors could tell when they were getting close to the parts of the brain that he used while reading and playing music 
 
An opera singer in Holland sang "Gute Nacht" while surgeons at the Medical Centre Utrehct  performed a craniotomy. At one point in the surgery, Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne started to slur his words, alerting the surgical team that the area being worked on was necessary for him to complete the song and read the music accurately.
 
Check out the video below to see Aguilera’s surgical performance of the jazz piece “Misty” and hear how his team made this surgery happen
 
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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