Intended for healthcare professionals

Editorials Christmas 2014: Editorial

Making music in the operating theatre

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 11 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7436
  1. David C Bosanquet, surgical registrar,
  2. James CD Glasbey, foundation year 1 doctor,
  3. Raphael Chavez, consultant general and transplant surgeon
  1. 1Department of Surgery, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK
  1. Correspondence to: D C Bosanquet davebosanquet{at}

Wake me up before you go-go

One hundred years ago, Pennsylvanian surgeon Evan Kane penned a brief letter to JAMA in which he declared himself a rigorous proponent of the “benefic [sic] effects of the phonograph within the operating room.” To Kane, it was an optimal means of “calming and distracting the patient from the horror of their situation.” Perhaps it was by harnessing these distracting properties that he was able to face the operating room as both patient and surgeon, becoming the first person to perform an auto-appendicectomy in 1920. A century later, although we have more in our anaesthetic armamentarium than distraction, music can still bring a calming effect to the operating team and surgical patient.

Music and healing share an intertwined history. As early as 4000 BC the Codex haburami (hallelujah to the healer), delivered by harp playing priests and musicians, served as part payment for medicinal services. Aristotle recognised the innate ability of melodies to surpass “feelings such as pity and fear, or enthusiasm,” and thus “heal and purify the soul.” The Greeks identified Apollo as the father of both healing and music, alongside his many other accolades (as God of light, sun, truth, prophecy, plague and poetry). Two physicians famed for using their musical abilities to implement medical achievements described chest percussion (Leopold Joseph Auenbrugger, 1722-1809) and invented the …

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