What Lennox Hill Taught Us About Music

“Some people can’t say words but they can sing a song just fine or it’s the other way around, they can say the words but they can’t sing” – Dr. David Langer, MD

Recently, everyone here at Alchemy Sky has been fascinated with the Netflix docuseries, Lenox Hill, which followed 4 doctors of New York City’s Lenox Hill hospital as they tackled intense surgeries and emotional cases, all while balancing their personal lives. Dr. David Langer, the Chair of Neurosurgery of Lenox Hospital, Vice President of Neurosurgery for Northwell Health, and Professor in the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, has created world-class clinical care and is working on developing new and innovative spaces for patients and their families.

Throughout the series there are many instances where Dr. Langer and his team would play music during the operations and even post-surgery. To our team here at Alchemy Sky, it hit our radar. Why? What do the doctors see as the benefit? Sure, music seemed like an interesting practice to employ in a task as intense as brain surgery. We decided to dig into the research on how music could influence the health outcomes of patients who undergo brain surgery. We were fascinated by all the benefits that went hand in hand with our mission and we wanted to learn more directly from the source. On August 22nd, Jaye Budd and our team of interns from Adelphi University had the opportunity to sit down and virtually meet with Dr. Langer to discuss his work in neurosurgery as well as how music is employed in the field.

What We Learned from Dr. Langer:

Music can ease discomfort. One of the most intriguing aspects of neurosurgery is that sometimes patients are awake when they are being operated on, which can be very intense and uncomfortable. Dr. Langer explained that in cases where the patient is awake, his team will play music at the patient’s request as a means of easing the inevitable discomfort that comes with being wide awake while having your brain operated on.

Music may aid in pain management. Aside from the comfort that comes with hearing familiar verses of songs, there is also some research suggesting that music aids in pain management. A team of researchers in Glasgow, Scotland sent a questionnaire to individuals across the country that suffered from chronic pain to investigate how music affected their quality of life. These researchers found that individuals who listened to music generally had better quality of life. While this finding could suggest that music lessens pain, General Practitioners in the area state that they recommend music to their patients as a means of distraction from the pain, and relaxation which would ease the toll of chronic pain on the patient’s health.

Music is a means of rehabilitating speech. As for post-surgery rehabilitation, music is frequently used as a means of rehabilitating speech. Formulating speech is one of the most complex motor functions we have. Music, however, is not localized in the same part of the brain as speech and it uses a massive amount of computing power to consolidate as well as recall lyrics. This, as Dr. Langer explained, is why “some people can’t say words but they can sing a song just fine or it’s the other way around, they can say the words but they can’t sing.” In the case of a specific patient in the series, Chris Amundsen, music gave him hope that his lost speech ability would return with proper care and rehabilitation.

Music helps more than the patients. While music is sometimes employed to influence better health outcomes for the patients, Dr. Langer admitted it is also partially for the relaxation and enjoyment of the doctors in the operating room. Meeting with Dr. Langer gave the Alchemy Sky team insight into one of the many ways in which music can influence health and wellbeing when employed in a field such as neurosurgery. While Dr. Langer’s target group is different from Alchemy Sky, he still employed music as a means of healing emotional distress with his patients, just the same as Alchemy Sky does with their veterans.