Have a Laugh, Hospitalizations
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The Soundtrack of Life – and Surgery

Most moments in life have a soundtrack, if you think about it.  From iconic movie moments like Judd Nelson raising his fist in the air as the sound of “Don’t You Forget About Me” plays while the credits begin to roll in The Breakfast Club to Matthew Broderick lip synching “Twist and Shout” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, music recalls a specific time, place or moment for many of us, good or bad.

Music has been used in medicinal arenas going back thousands of years, when ancient Greeks identified Apollo as the God of both Healing and Music.  One of its more recent proponents, Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane, supported the use of music in the operating room, as he felt it helped “to calm and distract the patient from the horror of the situation”.  And he should know.  This man operated on himself not once, not twice, but three times, in order to better understand the experience of surgery from the perspective of the patient.  In 1919, he performed a self-amputation of one of his fingers after it became infected.  Later, in 1921, he garnered attention from the media for removing his own appendix under a local anesthetic.  As if that weren’t enough, in 1932 he repaired his own hernia under local anesthesia while both the press and a photographer watched, and was back in the operating room performing surgeries on others less than two days later.  Kind of amazing, and at the same time, a little crazy.  But the next little tidbit about him is by far my favorite.  For whatever reason, in the later years of his career, he had taken to tattooing his patients with the letter “K” in Morse Code, rendering his clients primitive versions of what would later become the Cabbage Patch doll.

REALLY?!?!?!  So now I have to wonder what it would be like to go through life with the initials “D.S.” inked on my rear end.  In fairness, the man did a fair amount of work on my behind over the years, and is it really any different than an artist signing his canvas?  Anyway, I digress.  We were talking about music in the operating room, not ass tattooing.

Much more recent studies have also demonstrated the positive effect of music on surgical patients; in 2009, a study of 372 patients found that playing soothing music that echoed the rhythm of a resting heart rate was more effective than typical pharmaceutical treatment for alleviating patient anxiety prior to the administration of general anesthesia.   And while I’m sure some surgeons stick to those heart-soothing melodies, there are probably plenty of others who prefer something a little more…eclectic.   So if surgeons decide on the music they will listen to during an operation based on the type of surgery being performed, it begs the question – “What on Earth do Colorectal Surgeons Listen to During Surgery?”  I only have my own experience to go on, and let’s face it, they very easily could have changed from The Gipsy Kings to something else after I was out cold.  It makes you wonder.  Below is a sample list of songs I would imagine may be on heavy rotation during the course of colorectal surgery.

“Baby Got Back”  Sir Mix-A-Lot

“Shake Your Rump”  Beastie Boys

“Culo”  Pitbull & Li’l John

“Booty”  J. Lo & Iggy Azalea

“All About That Bass”  Meghan Trainor

“Light Your Ass on Fire”  Busta Rhymes & Pharrell

“Low”  Flo Rida

“Back That Ass Up”  Juvenile

“Da Butt”  E.U.

“My Humps”  Black Eyed Peas 

Mind you, this is only my guess and there are plenty more ass-tastic songs that could be added to this list, should you choose to do so.

Early on in our surgical relationship, while prepping for what would be my second surgery, I was wheeled into the operating room and was chatting with the nurses and doctors as they readied everything for the operation, which was to be for the purpose of constructing my j-pouch.  Having one surgery under my belt with Dr. S and many follow up appointments, I had grown comfortable with him, and was enamored with his tendency toward sarcastic and vile humor.  Still, after the trauma of the first surgery, I was understandably a bit nervous, and was using my default method of self-preservation, humor, to keep myself calm.  For those who haven’t experienced it yet, the process of getting prepped for surgery isn’t really a quick one, and between having marks drawn on you where they are going to cut, signing forms saying “I understand I might die”, and watching the instruments getting prepped in the operating room itself, you’ve got ample time to get worked up and start freaking out.

Dr. S came over after he was suited up to speak with me for a couple of minutes, and I saw an ipod on one of the trays near him.  Jokingly, I asked if I could request my own playlist, and he immediately said “Sure!”  and asked what I wanted to hear.  That was a good question.  What do you want to hear when you’re about to be laying comatose on a table, unsure of the outcome, butt naked in front of a group of 8-10 people? ??  Should you go with a classic choice, like “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult or “Don’t Need This Body” by John Mellencamp, or do you do something more upbeat and optimistic, like “Victory” by Megadeath or “Winning” by Santana?

In the end, I decided that if I was going out, that it should be with a bang, and to the same kind of music that I would listen to on any given day.  So naturally, I asked him if he had any albums by the Gipsy Kings on his playlist.  He smiled, and moments later, the sounds of “Bamboleo” were jamming through the room, and instinctively I started to tap my fingers to the music.  The anesthesiologist asked if I was ready, and I looked at him squarely in the eye and said “Let’s do this shit”.  We had just about come to the end of the song and I was out, waking up many hours later in recovery.

It became a tradition of ours when, just one week later, I was forced to undergo emergency surgery once again to correct the obstruction that had occurred after some of the internal sutures failed and a loop of my small bowel had herniated beneath the pelvic floor.  That time, I was really nervous, because they were clear with me how difficult this surgery would be and what the risks were, and I had no idea what condition I would be in once I woke up.  Two additional surgeons were joining him this time, because they knew I was going to be a mess of adhesions once I was opened up.  As I lay on the now-familiar operating room table and waited for everyone to get situated, Dr. S came over wielding his ipod, and asking me if we should go with the same choice as last time.  I nodded, and felt myself relax a bit as the familiar sounds of “Bamboleo” flooded the room once again.

And so it went, each time I needed surgery, the playlist would be queued up to the Gipsy Kings, and you would think I would have developed an aversion to their music after nine surgeries with it, but I still haven’t.  Each time one of their songs comes on, I still feel the urge to dance, and I’m reminded of the kindnesses of my medical team over the years.  The last time “Bamboleo” was played for me in the operating room was June 6th, 2008.  Yes, you’re damn right I chose D-Day for my last surgery.  I thought it was fitting.  And at this point, you may be wondering “Where the hell is she going with all this?”  I’m about to tell you.

Last week, my husband found out that the Gipsy Kings were coming to Austin to play at ACL, and knowing my affinity for their music, he bought us tickets.  As I went to add the date to my calendar, my jaw dropped and my eyes filled with tears.  The Gipsy Kings are playing ACL on Saturday, June 6th, and I will be there, not staring into the lights above an operating room table surrounded by surgeons, but in the front row of the second level, singing out loud and shaking my hips to the music.

Hopefully that is the last scene in my movie, and though I know that is rather unlikely given my history, I’ll throw in a little fist pump a la Judd Nelson – just in case.

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