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Banjo Medicine

Posted by Horseshoot on Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's been a while since I have updated this blog.  I have been planning on telling of a special moment I shared with a patient.  And then over the Thanksgiving holiday, I became a patient, and so the story had to wait.  But, now that I am healing, here it is.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I was serving a weekend of call at my local hospital.  For those who don't know, I am an anesthesiologist.  It had been a very busy weekend, and I had not been able to squeeze in any banjo time.  So, when I was called in on Sunday morning, to do the anesthetic for a poor elderly woman, who had suffered a hip fracture, I felt very sad that I would again not have time for banjo.  In retrospect, I realize how selfish that sounds.  I mean, at least I wasn't the one with the hip fracture.  Prior to leaving the house, I remembered that often more cases are added before I ever even leave the hospital.  When that happens, I usually just sit around wasting time while waiting for the OR to be prepped for the next patient.  A brilliant plan entered my head.  Why not take my little Deering to the hospital with me?  Then, if I have downtime, I can sit in my office and play!

As luck would have it, I DID get a second case.  After tucking the cute, slightly confused, elderly woman into the recovery room, I went to my office to play.  The office is right next door to the recovery room, so I knew the nurses could find me if needed.  For that patient I had selected a spinal, and very minimal sedation, so at this point, she was wide awake.  After playing only one song, the nurse poked her head into my office.  I immediately thought that perhaps I had been playing too loud and was disturbing the patient.

"Dr. Fraley?" "Yes?"  "Mrs X heard you playing your banjo, and is wondering if you would be kind enough to come play for her?"

Wow!  Naturally I nearly tripped over myself going to her.  I stood by her bed and played for about a half hour.  The word must have spread, because by the time I finished playing, there were several other staff members standing around listening, smiling.

I initially chose soft, gentle tunes.  I mean.... She is old, and just had surgery!  But after one song she said "Don't you know any fast bouncy banjo songs?!"  So I lit into the Scruggs standards, that I know, and she lay back on her pillow with her eyes closed, but with a smile on her face, and her head keeping time.

This was a beautiful experience for me, and I wont ever forget it.

Now to my own experience as a patient.  My wife and I flew to Kentucky, to visit our families for Thanksgiving.  Our daughter flew, to join us from Hartwick College, on Tuesday.  We picked her up at the Charleston, WV airport at 1150pm.  All the way to the airport, I had my old familiar belly pain.  I know I should have checked it out long ago.  But it usually only hurts for about 20 minutes, and usually in the middle of the night.  But this time, it hurt all the way to the airport, and all the way back.  Over 3 hours.  I finally decided to go to the emergency room.  After several hours (and a CT scan, and pain medicine) I was sent back home.  Well...  To my brother's home, where I was staying.  The radiologist had said I had a "thickened loop of bowel", but she wasn't sure why.  

I left a note for my brother, asking him to look at my CT scan.  He is a doctor, as well.  In my opinion, he is the world's best radiologist.  A few hours later, my brother called, asking if I had eaten yet.  Naturally I knew what that meant.  Surgery!

I had a fairly unusual condition, an intussusception.  I had surgery that day.  The day before Thanksgiving!  I have since healed, and am back to work.  

While recovering, I played a lot of banjo!  And got to find out for myself, what good medicine banjo music can be.

4 comments on “Banjo Medicine”

dgill Says:
Sunday, December 4, 2011 @2:26:45 AM

Great story Mike and I hope you are doing much better yourself. The banjo is a great instrument and I do believe it has some magic inside. I heard Don Stover say one time, that the banjo does have healing power. You pick it up and play and the world around you seems a bit easier to take.

banjotef Says:
Sunday, December 4, 2011 @4:47:46 AM

Great story, loved it!

KrissyJean Says:
Sunday, December 4, 2011 @10:43:01 AM

Thank you for this story. Sitting here drinking my coffee I'm thinking back on all those time I was hurt or sick, and dang I wish someone had played the banjo for me! I guess you found another way to help people you should bring your banjo to work more often Dr. Banjo. Happy Holidays!

DrBob Says:
Sunday, December 4, 2011 @4:35:52 PM

Thanks for that story, Michael; as Steve Martin once mused, " Ya' just can't be unhappy when you play the banjo." What an excellent example of music soothing the soul "-)

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