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Neurosurgeon Uses Awful Music to Stimulate Neurons

Dr. Jennifer Pons, neurosurgeon at Lights General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, uses unpleasant music to get her patients’ neurons on the right track. It started about a year ago when Dr. Pons realized that her own homegrown version of jazz was off putting to rodents, deer, millipedes and even insects, but it caused an interesting effect on her patients.

A female doctor looks at multiple screens of brain scans.

“Many surgeons like to play music while they are operating — especially during long, tedious procedures. I’ve been part of a neighborhood band for the last 10 years, and I just do it as an outlet. I play the flute, and I’m okay. Well, to be honest, I’m awful. I almost got kicked out of my elementary school band because I’m essentially out of tune,” explains Dr. Pons.

“I started playing my music in the operating room because it helps keep me focused. It’s hard to fall into a lull when unpleasant music is playing.”

Even though she knew she wasn’t very good at playing the flute, as an elementary school student, Dr. Pons experienced a watershed moment that inspired her to continue her pursuit as a flutist.

Dr. Pons comments, “One day when my mom drove me to school, almost every student in school was standing out in front led by the principal. Apparently, they were protesting my return to band class. They even accumulated 100,000 signatures to support their cause. But apparently, my mom spoke to the principal and came up with some type of agreement that allowed me to enter the school building. That’s when I realized you have to stick to what you believe in.”

A nurse covers her ears.

During Dr. Pons’ surgeries, most scrub nurses want to wear noise-canceling headphones to drown out the sound of Dr. Pons’ music. But that isn’t allowed because no one would hear what Dr. Pons is saying.

“One day after completing a surgery, I was playing music — my jam. I noticed that my patient seemed to be a little bit more active and engaged. The anesthesiologist said the patient was probably trying to crawl away to escape the music, but I attributed the brisk patient activity to the new notes I infused into the melody.”

It’s all preliminary, but Dr. Pons will continue to play music in the operating room, and she’s searching for a grant to help support research into the effect of unpleasant music on neuronal stimulation and healing.




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