While it is daunting watching, someone stay awake through their own surgery, especially performed on their own head. It is even more difficult to believe that someone could talk through the process. It is crucial however that some patients are kept awake specifically so they can speak or perform other high-level functions as they undergo surgery to give their surgeons a guide or map to work with when it comes time to remove the actual tumor.
A man named Ambrož Bajec-Lapajne underwent surgery in June 2014. He is a professional opera singer and he sang Franz Schubert’s “Gute Nacht” throughout his surgery.
Awake brain surgery is made possible by advanced brain mapping techniques and high-tech anesthetics. These days, doctors are working with a precise map of the brain they are operating on, and they can use that to successfully extricate dangerous tumours that sit near important brain regions, like ones that control speech, motor function or memory. Meanwhile, the latest anaesthetics make it possible to keep patients sedated but awake and talking.
Once the patient has been tested with questions or fine-motor tasks while applying electrical stimulation to different parts of the brain to see where the vulnerable areas are located, doctors are then able to put the patient to sleep completely for the actual removal of the tumour with confidence that they’ve mapped out forbidden areas.
In Bajec-Lapajne’s case, doctors wanted to monitor his ability to recognize changes in key, since that’s something he relies heavily on for his profession. They were most likely trying to avoid hurting those functions in the course of removing the tumor.
Singing is also a good task to help doctors avoid hurting speech areas — which is why some musicians choose to play guitar and sing during their surgeries instead of more traditional tasks like reading and answering questions.”
During the mapping process something alarming is noted. Bajec-Lapajne slurs his words, and his singing slows down to a mumbled stop. This was done in order for the Surgeons need to determine which parts of the brain will have this effect if interfered with. This guides the surgeons of where not to go during the tumour removal. Moments later, Bajec-Lapajne bounces right back to a beautiful performance. Bajec-Lapajne reports to be doing fine a year later, and continues to pursue a career in classical music.