great podcast here: [All in the Mind]
There’s nothing like a favourite piece of music to lift your spirits, and for millennia music has been known to play a powerful role in the healing process. We hear the inspiring story of a musician who believes he was pulled from the brink of death after hearing the single piece of music that meant most to him—from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Now he uses music as medicine in hospital intensive care units, to help heal others.
Lynne Malcolm: Hi, it's All in the Mind on RN, I'm Lynne Malcolm.
The opening movement of St Matthew Passion by JS Bach. It's a very beautiful piece of music by all accounts, and my guest today maintains that this music saved his life.
Andrew Schulman began playing the guitar as a child, and has been a professional guitarist in New York for more than three decades.
But about eight years ago, he and his wife Wendy shared an almost miraculous event at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York. This set Andrew on a new path, as what he calls a medical musician.
Andrew Schulman: What got me started in this path to become what I call a medical musician was my own catastrophic experience in critical medicine. I had a 99% diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, had a surgery. And the miracle at first was that I got the 1%. The mass was benign. It happens sometimes that way. But what followed that was that as I was being put onto the gurney to go from the operating room to the surgical intensive care unit, what we call the SICU, I went into anaphylactic shock. They'll never know exactly why but it probably had to do with the blood transfusion. I arrived five minutes later after a mad dash with them dashing me on a gurney into the SICU and I was clinically dead, which means I was in cardiac arrest, no respiration, no blood pressure. But I was resuscitated.
However, I was just massively ill from all kinds of complications. I was immediately put into a medically induced coma, and in the first three days of that coma, not a single doctor or nurse thought I would live. My wife didn't think I'd live either. It's in the middle of the third day when it was clear to everyone, especially to my wife, that I was probably within an hour or two of being gone permanently, that she had an epiphany. She was looking in her bag for her cell phone to call my mother and she saw my iPod, turned to the attending physician and said, 'He loves music more than anything. Medicine is not working at this point, my voice isn't working to reach him, I think only music could reach him.' And they agreed to try it.
The earbuds went in, they didn't know what to play, they just hit the first track on the iPod, luckily for me it was my ultimate favourite piece, the St Matthew Passion of Bach, and I have my guitar right here, I'll just say that the base starts with a heartbeat, and the first melody [plays guitar]…well, it's very powerful music, very important music to me as was my favourite piece and very uplifting.
And 30 minutes into the piece, all of a sudden I started stabilising, which I hadn't done in three days. I was terminally ill at that point, meaning I had terminal acidosis, lactic acid had built up in my tissues, and you don't survive that. But the acid started leaching out of my tissues. And by the way, it's an amazing story but it's backed up by the fact that it's in an ICU and doctors and nurses were there and there's chart for this showing all this stuff really happened. By that evening I was out of danger, and I never regressed, there were no more complications. They kept me in the coma for three more days.