It is 8 a.m., and Dr. Laura Esserman, the "singing surgeon" at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) readies her patient for surgery, as usual, by singing a song as the patient is wheeled into the operating room.
This particular patient (who wishes to remain anonymous) happens to be a former Bread & Roses Board member and long-time supporter.
The patient already knew about the scientific data attesting to the healing power of music. Yet it wasn't until she found herself going into surgery last fall that she truly understood the immediate and positive effect that live music can have.
Dr. Esserman had told the patient, "Pick your song," and her choice was James Taylor's "Shower the People You Love With Love."
Having practiced its beautiful harmonies, Dr. Esserman and her staff were all smiles as they sang and wheeled our friend from the prep room into surgery.
Of her experience at the UCSF Cancer Clinic, our supporter said this surgeon was both "rock star as well as life-saver."
Dr. Esserman provides a positive affirmation of the healing power of live music. She says that singing "creates a warm and supportive atmosphere that serves as an antidote to the fear usually engendered by a diagnosis of cancer and the trepidation of going into a foreign place for a surgical procedure."
She also relayed in a recent interview that she comes from a musical family and has been singing all her life. "I know every musical from Sigmund Romberg on and I can regale almost anyone with familiar Broadway songs. It was the family tradition to sing all the songs from new musicals," she said.
She also plays piano, has sung in choruses, and performed in musical theater while in high school, college and medical school. She started an a capella group when she was in residency called "Chord Blue." Today she sings in an acoustic-guitar based band called "6 Strings Attached" with environmental attorney Vic Sher and UCSF neurosurgeon Phil Weinstein.
With a very busy professional life as a breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Esserman is also head of UCSF's Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center and a professor of surgery and radiology. She makes time for music in her life and says "I love to sing, and it makes me happy to do so."
She started integrating music with medicine by singing to her patients many years ago when she was in the OR waiting for an anesthesiologist to arrive for an emergency case.
"Everyone was quite stressed and I asked the person I was operating on if she liked music and she said her favorite was from The Phantom of the Opera. So I immediately began to sing and she just loved it. Her blood pressure dropped about thirty points, and mine did too."
From then on, Dr. Esserman decided that she would sing her patients to 'sleep'. She gives people the option of picking a song they love or having her pick one for them. Of the overall effect that music has on a patient getting ready for surgery, Dr. Esserman says "It is a wonderful way of taking away the stress of going into an operating room. It is also a way to really focus on the patient and what they want and need at that moment."
Dr. Esserman talks about the benefit music has for her as well. "It is something I can give to people -- to use my musical gifts to make the experience of surgery a little easier and it is something that gives me joy as well. So it is a win for everyone (except maybe the anesthesiologist)!"
Blog Post Contributed by Marian Hubler