In the Mood for a Melody

Today’s blog post comes from Shoshana B Weiner who is a fourth year medical student at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, and will be entering a pediatrics residency at NYP Weill-Cornell in June.

I had just finished STEP-1, the infamous 8-hour medical board exam, and my brain was foggy. With months of prep suddenly coming to a close, I vegged at home, recharging mind and body. A thought crossed my mind: ‘Don’t let med school get in the way of life,’ medical education gurus advise. Study hard, but don’t neglect hobbies. Don’t neglect you. About to embark upon clinical rotations, I worried that the pressures of long days at the hospital followed by hours in the library would threaten this ideal. It was then that I noticed my family’s piano against the wall, collecting fine layers of dust as years went by, beckoning me to return, how have you lost the time for me?

Music had been a large part of my life. My grandfather played accordion, accompanied by my grandmother on concert organ. I learned to play classical piano as a child while my siblings were busy with saxophone and drums. It was a family affair – my mom also an organist and my father as synagogue cantor on the high holidays. Over the years, however, as high school turned into college and then medical school, time to practice evaporated, and my piano-playing days drifted into the past.

On this fine spring day, with the weight of my test finally off my shoulders, I sat down at the piano, took out some old sheet music, and began to play. My fingers were rusty, and I read the music slowly, but my mind drifted into the comforts of the melody from the moment my fingers hit the keys. I felt at ease as I was calmed by the sounds of the familiar notes.

Meditation can take many forms. Engaging the mind completely in art, sport, or music can free us from burdensome thoughts and emotions and serve as a creative outlet. I reflected on this as I stood on the brink of my next stage of training. A quick Google Maps search located the nearest music store and two hours later, I returned home with a receipt and shipping label for a music keyboard to be sent to my med school apartment. All jazzed up, I returned to start Year Three and found an online tutorial for one of my favorite songs, ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel. I felt euphoric when I mastered the introduction. Even a small step can set wheels in motion. I was hooked.

However, the intensity of ward work soon enveloped me, leaving little time for hobbies. I tried not to think about fine layers of dust now collecting on my piano keyboard. Late at night after a long day at the hospital, I was scurrying around hoping to finish up so I could head home. While enjoyable, clinical work was consuming – mentally and physically. My legs were tired, and I was beginning to feel the mental fatigue. I had one last task and could then be on my way. Tonight, maybe, I could practice piano for a few minutes before collapsing into bed. As I hurried down the hall with my head bent over my clipboard, I heard a familiar tune emanating from just behind me. I stopped short, turned around, and looked up. Two patients sat together in the hall, grinning broadly. One was serenading the other with none other than Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man.’ I laughed at the irony. Here I stood, so eager to get home and indulge in my one escape from medicine. And here were my patients boomeranging that plan right back into the hospital. I wasn’t in such a hurry anymore. Smiling at them, I joined in the fun. We sang that song right through to the end:

‘And you’ve got us feelin’ alright.’