A doctor and patient look at a brain scan. A doctor and patient look at a brain scan. Being awake during any kind of surgery sounds scary, but doctors and patients make the decision to do so together. (Photo: Rocketclips / Shutterstock)

Why patients play violin, read and sing during surgery

Videos reveal how awake surgery gives doctors instant feedback and keeps patients safer.

The decision to open a human body isn't a light one for doctors to make. So are the physicians and patients featured in the videos below totally nuts to be playing musical instruments, singing, reading and chatting during surgeries?

Not at all. Seems odd, right? But there are some perks to staying awake during surgery. A patient who can answer questions in real-time and respond to stimuli can help guide a doctor during complicated procedures.

Three examples below show that sometimes, neurosurgery patients can play a participatory role in their own operation. Two other videos show how the idea of awake surgery is being experimented with in other types of procedures, to reduce risk of complications and speed recoveries.


Guitar-picking in Los Angeles

Guitarist Brad Carter, a Los Angeles-based actor and musician, was awake during his brain surgery, which was for a tremor that was affecting his ability to play. The UCLA medical team implanted a pacemaker in his brain – and Tweeted about it at the same time. That's because the hospital turned it into an event, to help reduce future patients' fear of the procedure and to let the public see how this kind of operation works (in the safest way possible – virtually). "I think it was an amazing opportunity to bring the world into the operating room and learn more about this surgery," says Dr. Nader Pouratian.


Violin-playing in Tel Aviv

Naomi Elishuv, formerly a violinist for the Lithuanian National Orchestra, underwent neurosurgery for a hand tremor that forced her to quit playing professionally. As you can see in the video above, she played while neurosurgeon Dr. Itzhak Fried implanted two electrodes in her brain.

"The stimulation is done at a very precise point, which is about 7 centimeters deep in the brain. And, you really have to make sure that you are at the correct point. There is really no room for error here," Fried told a local newspaper. Elishuv's surgery was a success, and she is now back to playing the violin tremor-free.


Reading Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis

Conor Mather-Licht was heavily sedated, but awake – and reading Kurt Vonnegut – during his brain surgery for a tumor that was affecting his ability to read. The deep-seated tumor was removed slowly and carefully by Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol, a neurosurgeon with Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine in Indiana. It took a few weeks for the brain to heal, but Mather-Licht made a full recovery and returned to college the autumn after his operation.


Singing during throat surgery in Paris

Professional singer Alama Kante was medically hypnotized, but not put under general anesthetic, so doctors could operate on her thyroid, which is tucked in among the vocal cords. To save her voice, Kante sang along to traditional African music, so doctors could easily isolate where her vocal cords were as they operated. She said she did experience pain during the procedure, but it was like being in a dream. Her next album will be released soon, according to her website.


Awake during open-heart surgery in Bangalore

Bolmax Periera had an epidural, which meant he could not feel pain, but was awake during open-heart surgery in Bangalore. If this sounds unbelievable, check out the video above, which explains that doing awake surgery allows doctors to ensure that a stroke doesn't occur while the patient is being operated on. An accelerated physical therapy regimen can also be started right away, since patients of awake surgery don't need to recover from anaesthetic. Periera's surgeon, Dr. Vivek Jawali, said: "My refusal rate for wide awake surgery is 4 percent; if patients understand the scientific advantages, they don't refuse. They are very comfortable on the (operating) table – I did not even put any music on his ears. He was listening to what we were talking about."

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Why patients play violin, read and sing during surgery
Videos reveal how awake surgery gives doctors instant feedback and keeps patients safer.