Several modern clinics, hospitals and operating theatres are discovering the clinical benefits of soothing classical music and using it not just to make patients feel better, but to improve medical outcomes too.
Several surgeons who undertake nerve racking long critical operations on the brain, heart or liver, ensure that there is an appropriate “raga” on soft instrumental music or a slow vocal chant playing in the OT. Surgeries sometimes require up to 20 hours during which a human life dangles uncertainly from the surgeon’s hands that are expected to remain consistently and unwaveringly steady. And it is often left to classical music to ensure they do.
Studies on the effect of classical music on patients and relatives waiting for surgical or endoscopic procedures have consistently shown that a period of exposure to music in the waiting chamber during this stressful wait significantly reduces heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety levels. This prepares the patient to face the procedure better.
The effects of music are indeed very real. Researchers have measured levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in the circulation during the stressful waiting periods and found them to be elevated. When they repeated their measurements after a 30-minute exposure to music, these had settled down.
Settling stress is not just about trying to make patients feel comfortable, but ensuring better medical outcomes as well. An anxious patient reeling under stress with a racing heart, elevated blood pressure and high levels of cortisol and adrenaline is more prone to complications during surgery. Further, stress hormones delay healing and increases post-operative complications.
Doctors and hospitals are often stereotyped to look serious, sterile and bland, and music in hospital chambers is sometimes perceived as lacking in seriousness, frivolous, and perhaps distracting. Hospital administrators have therefore often shied away from providing music in hospitals, lagging behind what their counterparts in the airline or hotel industries have tuned into long time ago.
This old perception is fortunately changing. Studies are beginning to show that the less intense and more warm the environment, better are the outcomes. And sounds from the sitar, sarod, piano or violin seem to play a pivotal role in achieving this.
Much of the high stress levels in society these days that drive us to road rage, anger, fights, high blood pressure, diabetes and predispose us to premature heart disease and death could be linked to declining habit of music-listening. True, most cars are equipped with good music systems, and cell-phones with ear-plugs often help youngsters get their daily dose, but in the packed schedules of our modern lives, the habit of listening to chants in the morning or the family session in the evenings to listen to Bhimsen Joshi, Gundecha brothers, Pandit Ravi Shankar, or Nikhil Banerjee has become history in many homes.
A regular schedule or frequent periods of exposure to soothing classical music, even if we do not actively listen to them, can help us reduce stress. Music is nutrition to our brains, nerves and souls much like food is to our body. A 30-minute session each day could serve as an antidote to the stresses that modern life puts on us.
And if doctors and clinics are beginning to realize the value of music and use it for themselves and their patients, each one of us should ensure that we do not deny ourselves a daily dose in our own lives as well.