The intensive care unit of Istanbul Memorial Hospital looks like any modern hospital anywhere. But it definitely doesn’t sound like one.
Dr. Bingür Sönmez, a cardiac surgeon for more than 30 years, plays traditional Sufi songs on the ney flute for his patients.
“What we are doing in intensive care, we are playing Sufi music to our patients to calm down, to make them feel much better,” he said.
Sufism is a mystic branch of Islam whose traditional music is popular among Turks. Sönmez said five centuries ago when Europeans were burning people alive for having mental illnesses, healers in the Ottoman Empire had a different approach.
“In this country, in Ottoman Empire times, we used to treat psychiatric patients with music in hospitals, in local hospitals,” Sönmez said. “So what we are doing is the same.”
After a short performance for one patient, anesthesiologist Erol Can said the patient’s heart rate decreased by 15 percent. According to Can, musical therapy has scientific backing. He says the hospital conducted a study of 22 patients and measured their stress levels on a scale of one to 10. Their stress went down from an average of seven to three after a 20-minute musical performance.