Saved by music and playing it forward

Andrew Schulman’s vibrant career as a professional musician in New York City came to a screeching halt in 2009. Going in for surgery for what his doctors believed was pancreatic cancer, the surgery revealed the mass was benign. The elation of learning the patient was cancer-free was followed minutes later by an unexplained drop in blood pressure, clinical death, frantic resuscitation and a medically induced coma lasting a week. The doctors and nurses at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital had little hope that he would survive. In a last, desperate act, his wife dug his iPod out of her bag.

“She turns to the doctor and says his heart is beating but his soul isn’t,” Schulman says, recounting Wendy’s desperate plea to the doctors. “He loves music more than anything else. I think only music can give him the will to live.”

She put the earphones in his ears and turned on the music. Within 30 minutes, his vitals stabilized, his metabolic functions started returning and the doctors gathered at his bedside stared in wonder at what was no less than a miracle.

“I realized even before I knew that music had saved my life that I had been saved by an extraordinary event. I knew that very quickly and I knew that I had to give back. I didn’t have money to donate to the hospital, but I had my guitar and I decided the day I came out of the coma and found out a little bit of what had happened, I decided that I had to go back there with my music to help people who were critically ill in the ICU.”

And thus was born Andrew Schulman’s new calling in life, bringing music to the bedside of the critically ill and, in the process, learning about the documented medical benefits of music and his participation in a large, new study on the subject. He wrote Waking the Spirit (Picador/Macmillan), a compelling account of his sickness, miraculous recovery and his work going forward to help bring critically ill people to better outcomes. Hear more in my conversation with Andrew in the Independent Author podcast below.

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