The high-pitched sound of an alto saxophone accompanied by an electronic piano resonated in the examination room, replicating the tunes often heard in pachinko parlors, while a semiconscious patient lay in bed.
Ryo Noda, a professor at the Osaka University of Arts, was playing saxophone for a master carpenter and pachinko devotee who had fallen and struck his head at a construction site two weeks earlier, sustaining compound fractures.
The live musical performance at Nihon University Itabashi Hospital’s critical care center was a novel attempt by Noda and Nariyuki Hayashi, of the Nihon University Medical Department, to treat patients with serious brain damage.
While the carpenter escaped death by undergoing low-temperature brain treatment, he failed to fully regain consciousness.
Low-temperature brain treatment, known otherwise as brain hypothermia, sees patients’ entire bodies cooled to 32 or 33 degrees. This can prevent the brain damage from spreading.
Noda played lively old pop songs while hospital staff shook the patient’s body to the music and stretched and squeezed his legs.
The professor chose the pieces after hearing from the carpenter’s family that he enjoyed playing pachinko.
Noda loudly told the carpenter, “We’re going to a pachinko parlor,” which seemed to calm him; he had been gasping for breath.
Noda and Hayashi, who specializes in emergency medical science, are applying the treatment to patients who suffered cerebral hemorrhages or pulmonary suspensions. The patients have received low-temperature brain treatment, even though they suffer from serious brain damage.
Each patient receives 30 minutes of the music-shaking treatment 10 times every two weeks.
The vegetative patients are also played music while sitting on a trampoline or large ball as hospital staff bounce them up and down. Physicians conduct the treatment, and patients’ heart rates are monitored throughout.
“Even if the patients have not regained consciousness, their brains’ emotional nerve centers are functioning,” Noda said. “If (we) can shake and move them, we will probably be able to draw on their desire to live.”
The two professors say they are unable to prove the effectiveness of their treatment method because it is so new.
The medical system had given up on most of the patients undergoing this treatment. More than a dozen patients have undergone the bouncing-to-music treatment since 2001.
Patients’ families have sat in on the performances, hoping to see an improvement in their kin.
Dr. Takashi Moriya of Nihon University is in charge of the therapy.
“The patients who improve their responses after undergoing the treatment show increases in the density of dopamine in cerebrospinal fluids,” he said.
“If the therapy is conducted at an early stage together with electrical stimuli to patients’ peripheral nerves, it might be effective in their initial stage of rehabilitation.”
Hayashi, who developed the low-temperature brain treatment method, has taken cross-sectional photographs of the brains of patients brought to the critical care center.
The photographs chart the period between patients’ completion of their intensive care treatment and their advancement to a vegetative state.
Irregularities highlighted by the photos led to Noda’s live music therapy.