The delicate notes of a flute filled the air of an operating room at a Houston hospital last Tuesday. While playing music during a surgery isn’t unusual, this song wasn’t being piped through a speaker system. The classical tune was coming from Anna Henry, a 63-year-old professional flute player, as she rested on the operating table with part of her scalp peeled back, undergoing brain surgery. It was the first time in years that Henry, who has a common movement disorder known as essential tremor, played her favorite instrument with steady hands.
… Essential tremor is a neurological disorder that causes “involuntary and rhythmic shaking,” most often in the hands. Henry’s performance was part of a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation. The surgery involves inserting tiny electrodes in the brain, which deliver a constant electric current that can significantly reduce symptoms of conditions such as essential tremor or Parkinson’s disease. A battery pack is also implanted in the patient’s chest to control the amount of stimulation the brain receives. Giving Henry her flute during the procedure allowed doctors to see whether her hands were stable enough to play, and as her tentative fingers produced the melody’s final notes, it was clear her operation was a success.