Monday, October 17, 2011

Music as Medicine

Anyone working in an operating room during surgery is familiar with the fact that doctors bring their own music to "work." While not a doctor or nurse, I have traveled as a medical coordinator with surgical teams to under-served countries on three continents and I can vouch for the fact that everyone puts iPods and speakers on the list along with surgical supplies and instruments when planning a trip. While here I am describing music as perhaps an aid to the operating room staff (to help keep focus?), much research is now being done on the role of music as a mechanism to heal.
In 2010, Claudius Conrad from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Surgery, in Boston published a perspective in The Lancet, a health journal, entitled "Music for healing: from magic to medicine." Conrad provided an overview of the magical, ritual and mystical origins of music as a healing modality from Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal times till now. He pondered the evolution of music therapy despite the fact that "a fundamental question underlying the role of music in health is also to ask why music developed in the first place and why it produces an emotional reaction and attenuation of the human stress response in the listener despite serving no essential biological need." He further states:
The oldest example of the contextual use of music for healing may be the depiction of harp-playing priests and musicians in frescos from 4000 BCE. During this era, a Codex haburami (hallelujah to the healer), was performed as sonorous reimbursement for medicinal services rendered. In 2000 BCE, the cuneiform writings of Assyrians depict the use of music to circumvent the path of evil spirits. In later centuries, the first specific application of music as therapy developed in ancient Greece, with Aesculapius recommending the use of music to conquer passion. Perhaps not until the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, did an interest develop in trying to understand the effects of music on human beings.
Continuing to the Middle Ages, "the alternating sound of the flute and the harp served as a remedy for gout." Contemporary shamans and other healers actively use drumming, stringed instruments, dance and trance to heal the sick, keep the healthy well, welcome newborns to humanity and send spirits to their final homes at funerals. Research institutions and hospitals are examining the benefits of music in the fields of mental health (including autism), dentistry and surgery. 

The Guardian recently published a piece entitled, "Turkish doctors call the tune with traditional musical cures." A hospital in Istanbul is using complementary therapy for a range of illnesses by playing ancient Arabesque scales and patterns (see photo above). Stressing that music and healing is not new, the doctors explain how different pitches and patterns produce varying effects. For example, Dr. Sonmez says that "Without having to prescribe additional drugs, five to 10 minutes of a certain musical piece lowers the heart rate and blood pressure." He further states, "We are not doing anything new, and we are not reinventing the wheel . . . The positive effects of music therapy have been known for well over 900 years." According to the article, the use of musical instruments "was integrated into medieval Islamic medicine as early as the 9th century, when scholar and philosopher Al Farabi discussed and cataloged the effect of different musical modes on body and psyche." Dr. Somnez says the staff sometimes play music for each other on break so that everyone is "cared for." 

To read the full article from the Guardian click here.

And for another look at the healing power of music, watch The Story of the Weeping Camel from national Geographic. "When a Mongolian nomadic family's newest camel colt is rejected by its mother, a musician is needed for a ritual to change her mind" from IMDB. Trailer below.

Ending FGM

The Fight Against Female Genital Cutting: New York Times reporter Celia Dugger reports from West Africa on progress in community-based efforts to eradicate female genital cutting.

This week the New York Times published, "Senegal Curbs a Bloody Rite for Girls and Women," a report about female genital mutilation (FGM) and successful efforts to stop the practice in this West African nation. Performed out of love and respect for their daughters, mothers continue the practice to shield their girls from abuse by other women and to ensure they will be suitable for marriage. However, through education and by persuading young people living in villages that intermarry (as young people must marry outside of their clan/village) to abandon the practice, gains have been made in ending this ancient rite of womanhood. Many mothers, emotionally and physically scarred by FGM have sworn not to cut their daughters. To learn more, visit The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project.
To read more on efforts to stop female genital mutilation in Africa, read Educating About Female Circumcision in Africa. In that post one can see the rudimentary instruments used to cut the girls - often two, four or eight years old - who suffer the surgery without anesthetic. To read the full article from New York Times on Senegal click here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Our Forests, Ourselves

This week in class we discussed horticulture: not the gardening you do around your house, but the lifestyle of indigenous peoples in the rain forest who plant using hand tools only, supplementing their crops with hunting and the gathering of fruits from forests surrounding their villages. They grow or protect not only plants and trees used for food and drink, but other useful species such as trees that provide leaves for shelter and plants that have a poison used to stun fish, making them easy to catch.

Specifically, we looked at the Guarani of Paraguay and the Runa of Ecuador. Both are traditional peoples whose self concept is intertwined with the forest. They practice forest management techniques that disallow over use of their territories. People fish only in rivers near their homes. With swidden agriculture, useful trees are left standing while the rest is burned and root crops planted amidst the cooled soil. Villages are camouflaged by forest canopies, hidden down winding, overgrown paths, almost invisible to outsiders. For the Guarani and the Runa, their only wish is that their children live just as they do, in the forest, building canoes and houses and gardening just as their ancestors did centuries ago. Moreover, myths and everyday speech are peppered with stories and phrases elaborating on the human characteristics of natural phenomena. In their world view, nature and humanity depend on each other and there is no room for laziness or greed on either side.

While the Runa have formed communas to protect their way of life, the Guarani have seen their lands shrink through encroachment by colonos. These outsiders clear cut the forest, use fertilizers and over use the lands. Unable to practice their traditional lifestyle because their territories have been planted with monocrops, the Gurani now depend on wage labor and must buy their foodstuffs. Their nutrition has suffered. Families must relocate for work. Traditional relationships - personal and spiritual - are unsustainable. The Guarani now suffer high rates of suicide among males between 15 and 24, high rates of depression and a lowered self concept, referring to themselves now as "indios" a perjorative term, instead of "the people of the forest." When the forest dies, people die. This is not a metaphor.

Unfortunately, forests all around the world today are dying. Both climate change, where cold seasons give way now to warmer temperatures that fail to destroy invasive insects, and corporate interests, whose efforts clear cut forests for logging, ranching and agriculture, are destroying the trees. If this continues, humans will not be able breathe.

Recently, at the same time I was lecturing on the Runa and the Guarani, I saw two articles addressing the death of the forests. One approached the subject from a scientific (Western?) point of view, taking a global look at how humans are harmed by the loss of natural forests. The other provided an insiders perspective, an intimate look, at the human cost of greed.

The New York Times article, With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors, states that "while a majority of the world’s people now live in cities, they depend more than ever on forests, in a way that few of them understand." The article further says that forests have absorb more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that people are putting into the air by burning fossil fuels and other activities, "an amount so large that trees are effectively absorbing the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks." The article details:

If forests were to die on a sufficient scale, they would not only stop absorbing carbon dioxide, they might also start to burn up or decay at such a rate that they would spew huge amounts of the gas back into the air — as is already happening in some regions. That, in turn, could speed the warming of the planet, unlocking yet more carbon stored in once-cold places like the Arctic. 

Deforestation through human efforts and through forest fires warm the climate. In turn, an environment friendly to the proliferation of harmful insects is created. These insects kill trees whose decay spews carbon dioxide back into the forest in a loop of despair! And this is only one example leading to the death of forests on every continent, from the American Southwest to Siberia to the Amazon.  It is as though, in contrast to forest management practiced by the Indians whose worldview aims to maintain the Earth for future generations, current economic and technological activities are destroying the very hand that feeds them.

Balancing this presentation of scientific research and environmental efforts is a piece in Al Jazeera, The Crying Forest. This article highlights a documentary that investigates the life and death of Ze Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, an Amazon rainforest activist well known for standing up to loggers, ranchers and agriculturalists and their corporate interests. He was gunned down, alongside his wife Maria, on May 24, 2011 in a remote corner of the Brazilian Amazon. Six months earlier he had predicted his own death saying, "I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment."  Since 1996, at least 212 Amazonian activists have been murdered because of the battle to preserve nature or over land disputes with wealthy loggers. These deaths, a crying forest, humanity and nature.

One story, two perspectives. Either way, it affects us all.

To read the New York Times article click here.
For Al Jazeera, click here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Safe Haven in Chicago

Last month I wrote about 'baby bins' in Saving Baby.  Around for centuries, baby bins and baby hatches allow mothers to abandon their newborns without consequences to agencies and hospitals that will care for them. All over the world and throughout the United States, newborns discarded by mothers who cannot for myriad reasons take care of them are saved from certain death through safe haven policies.
 Here is an article from the New York Times that highlights a woman in Chicago working to save abandoned infants and snippets of the lives of those who, once thrown away, are now thriving in loving homes. In the photo above is Illinois couple Kevin and Tracy who adopted 'Baby 49,' now a 2-year-old named Molly (photo by Jose More/Chicago News Cooperative).