As a health and science writer for The New York Times, and author of the book Island Practice, I am fascinated by the intersection of science and anecdote, by the way that something that initially seems to be a serendipitous occurrence can open the door to discoveries of new and effective medical approaches.
One recent example of this interconnection was an article I wrote about music therapy for premature babies. It highlighted research that showed, in a more rigorous way than many previous studies, that live music can help preemies by stabilizing their vital signs, and improving sleep and feeding behaviors. These scientific indications that an art form can be medically helpful were especially resonant for me because I am also a musician – a classically-trained flutist who currently plays jazz, performing regularly with Equilibrium, a group in New York City, and, when I have time, composing jazz tunes.
Some of the most intriguing subjects that I’ve written about for The New York Times are those at the often-counterintuitive intersection between “story” and “science”: how something we happen to notice may turn out to have scientifically significant causes or effects. Other recent articles that I’d group under this umbrella include the remarkable 200-mile return home of a Florida cat separated from her owners, the notion that monkeys may be able to learn something new entirely by watching others, and the relationship between smoking and mental illness. These types of articles generate tremendous response and interest from our readers.
Island Practice deals with improbable and surprising connections too. The book is a true tale of a colorful and contrarian doctor 30 miles out to sea on the island of Nantucket who has performed surgery with scalpels he carved from obsidian, made house calls to a hermit who lived in an underground house and a vine igloo, treated patients ranging from Kennedy relatives to a sheep with a prolapsed uterus, and diagnosed everything from tularemia to toe-tourniquet syndrome. Island Practice has been optioned for a television series by Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox.
Among the exciting and fortunate opportunities that have developed since the publication of Island Practice, one stands out as especially relevant to this discussion. I’ve recently been asked to do music-and-book events in which I get to play jazz with talented musicians and engage in a discussion about the connections between writing and music. These events have taken place in New York and San Francisco, and the next one is coming up on Saturday evening, May 18, at a large and creative bookstore called Book Shack in Kingston, Massachusetts. There, I’ll play jazz with terrific Boston musicians and have a lively conversation with Alicia Anstead, editor of The Writer magazine.
It is a pleasure to be part of an #HCLDR tweet chat and I look forward to a stimulating discussion. Here are some questions we might focus on:
- T1: How have you tried to use music as medicine, and what challenges and obstacles have you faced?
- T2: What ways have you seen something that appeared to be anecdotal or unusual lead to a regular, reliable medical intervention?
- T3: In Island Practice, Dr. Tim Lepore gives patients extraordinary time but chafes at the constraints of corporatized medicine. Do you face similar challenges? How?
[Blog post written by our very special guest moderator Pam Belluck an award winning writer for the New York Times.]
Please join Pam Belluck on Tuesday May 14th at 8:30pm Eastern for the weekly #HCLDR tweetchat.