I am an interventional pain physician. I spend most of my days doing spine injections with a fair amount of kyphoplasties and spinal cord stimulators thrown in as well. It seems to me that these are minor procedures that shouldn’t evoke anxiety in patients, but they do. Patients get nervous. They get anxious.
I am also a singer. I had the privilege of being classically trained through my college years. Like so many other passions, singing was put on the back burner in my pursuit of medicine. Music is a blessing that I hold dear to my heart, and it has pained me to not have an outlet for this gift.
When I got out of fellowship and started in private practice, I began to occasionally hum some tunes as I was doing injections. That hum naturally turned into singing. Over a short amount of time, I found myself singing during each and every procedure all day long. I sing hymns usually with some Italian opera and show tunes thrown in. Most of my patients are over 65, and they seem to enjoy those genres. For my younger patients, I add some Adele and even some Disturbed as indicated.
Patients began to write me letters of appreciation. They began requesting songs and I, of course, obliged. I heard comments about how the songs took them away from the procedure to a happy place where they were relaxed and at ease. Patients started to decline sedation for procedures and simply request that I sing their favorite song. The more I sang, the more my patients began to request it. If I didn’t sing my patients noticed. I was asked to sing in churches, for granddaughters’ weddings, and for friends’ funerals. I began to connect with my patients in ways I hadn’t imagined — and in those connections, I rediscovered my joy in music.
Music has long been known to have impressive impacts on the human brain. Music increases dopamine in the brain, a chemical that regulates the pleasure-reward system. It allows us to experience feelings of enjoyment, bliss, and even euphoria. Could this be what my patients are experiencing when they go to their “happy place”? Or perhaps it is the oxytocin that is released? Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes trust and connection.
As the months went by, I began to realize that singing to my patients was, in turn, having an effect on me. Having this intimate interaction with my patients strengthened the physician patient relationship. It provided a unique bond and trust that I hadn’t experienced prior to this. Singing and discussing music provides a unique glimpse into who patients are.
At the end of the day amid the regulations and authorizations and insurance dictated care in my private practice, this interaction with my patients brings a smile to my face. In a world where physicians are increasingly burned out and frustrated it allows me a glimpse of why I entered this career field in the first place. To meet patients where they are in a time of need and leave a small mark on their lives.
Jessica Jameson is an interventional pain physician.
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