Guitarist Eddie Van Halen once famously said that playing the guitar wasn’t as difficult as brain surgery(1).
That may or may not be true, but you’ve got to give a musician points for playing the guitar while undergoing brain surgery – which is just what one man did in a recent operation.
While many people find background music can help them focus on work, it’s not every day that surgeons get a background track provided by the patient they’re operating on.
Last year, a man named Roger Frisch had a custom violin specially constructed in order to be able to play throughout the duration of his brain surgery – a video of his procedure is available online from the Mayo Clinic(2).
Frisch’s surgery was done in order to insert an electrode into his thalamus in order to stop the hand tremors that were affecting his life’s work as a member of the Minnesota Orchestra.
This year, Brazilian brain surgeons operated on musician Anthony Kulkamp Dias as he played Beatles classics on his guitar.
Performing Brain Surgery On Conscious Patients
While Frisch and Dias’s situations are unique, it turns out that brain surgery on conscious patients – also called “awake brain surgery” or “intraoperative brain mapping” – isn’t as uncommon as you might think.
“Neurosurgeons at the John Hopkins Comprehensive Brain Tumor Center perform many brain tumor procedures while the patient is awake but sedated,” writes the John Hopkins Center.
According to John Hopkins, awake brain surgery is ideal for certain situations, allowing surgeons to remove tumors that would otherwise be inoperable.
“Neurosurgeons perform awake brain surgery for tumors that have spread throughout the brain and do not have clear borders, such as some types of glioma. Awake brain surgery can shrink these tumors,” says the Hopkins Center(3).
A Nine-Hour-Long One-Man Show
Dias’s surgeons had the option of simply asking him to recite times tables or engage in some other tasks to monitor his progress throughout the operation, but ultimately he and his doctors decided that having him play the guitar would be more enjoyable for all concerned.
Plus, this way the surgeons were able to test Dias’s memory, speech, and motor control more efficiently than they otherwise would have been able to.
Dias’s nine-hour-long performance was caught on video(4), and covered by the local news. He mainly performed Beatles hits, but also threw in some Brazilian folk songs for good measure. “I even had an encore,” he told Brazilian news site G1(5).
Despite the novelty of the situation, the surgery wasn’t without complications. But when Dias started stuttering and forgetting familiar names, doctors were able to tell that something was wrong sooner than they would have had they been performing the surgery on an unconscious patient.
Now, with 90% of Dias’s brain tumor removed, the musician has been discharged and the operation declared a success.