Designing Music and Medicine with Michael De Georgia, MD
by Jess Lader, guest blogger
At first glance, Dr. Michael A. De Georgia appears to be all about science and medicine. As the Director of the Center for Neurocritical Care at University Hospitals (UH) and the Maxeen Stone & John A. Flower Endowed Chair in Neurology, most of De Georgia’s life is spent in the hospital, and in academia—teaching, writing papers, and lecturing. But his career vision in high school was to embrace his artistic side as a future graphic designer.
His creativity doesn’t stop there; he’s also an accomplished musician who plays the drums, guitar, and sings. In college, he became interested in science and biology and went to medical school. Art and music became a hobby and practicing medicine, his primary focus. Not until later in his career was he able to merge the two worlds successfully.
In 2001, De Georgia hosted his first medical conference and chose to call it: “Returning from the Dark Side of the Brain,” a tribute to Pink Floyd in both its title and poster design. To continue the music theme, he rented out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and hired the Michael Stanley Band to play at the conference. During the performance, the band invited him on stage and he sat in with them and jammed. This inspired him to retrieve the drum kit from his parent’s basement, dust it off, and start playing again.
In 2005, the Neurocritical Care Society approached De Georgia about combining his Cleveland Clinic conference with the national conference to be held in Baltimore the following year. Because they were “synchronizing” the two conferences, he decided to call the event “Synchronicity” (a tribute to Sting). By this time, it had become apparent the good doctor could put on a dynamic and engaging medical conference: he selected the conference topics and the speakers, and designed the brochure. While searching for bands to perform at the conference, he had an idea: why not form his own band with a few musical physician colleagues? Of course, De Georgia took the opportunity to utilize his creative side to design the logo for “The Codes.” The name of the band is a slight nod to medicine but not overtly so—he stresses that they are, “not a cute doctor funny-lyric band.” This is some serious, hard rock and roll!
As his band was getting ready to perform at the conference, he realized they did not have any of the sound equipment necessary to perform in a venue of that size. So he looked over the original list of bands he planned to hire, called the first band on the list, and asked, “Can we hire you…but just for your stuff?” The band was baffled by this request but they were happy to oblige. They showed up with their equipment in tow and set it up so The Codes could rock out. And they have rocked out all over the world, touring the medical conference circuit ever since.
During this time, De Georgia worked at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF). In 2006, CCF created an Arts and Medicine Institute, which he thought was brilliant: art therapy and music under one umbrella. He had already introduced music into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) prior to the creation of this institute. Since his entire family is musical, he invited his children (who are classically trained musicians) to play in the ICU for the patients. He recalls how surprisingly powerful it was to hear music emanating from the ICU and thought, “We’re on to something here.” He continued to invite more musicians, including those from the Cleveland Orchestra, to play in the unit.
He began working at University Hospitals (UH) at the end of 2007. At UH, he found an abundance of musical resources because of Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Department of Music, which has a formal affiliation with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Orchestra. At CWRU, research is being conducted directly or indirectly to music and cognition and the neurology of music. De Georgia founded the Center for Music and Medicine at UH in 2010 to not only further study of the neurology of music, but to treat music-related injuries. For example, he created the Musician Wellness Program to treat a wide variety of music-related conditions and injuries, including overuse syndromes, focal dystonias, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ), and hearing loss. He also speaks on music and the brain—how interpreting rhythm is related to the brain and the neurology of timing, which is fundamentally important to the experience of listening to music.
In addition to all of his other talents, De Georgia is a writer. He is very interested in historical events and reads presidential biographies for pleasure. During his reading, he recognized that historical events can be directly correlated to medical diagnoses, stating that, “Illness can completely change the entire course of history.” He eventually became obsessed with this connection when he realized that a pattern of strokes (that he treats every single day) occurred to six leaders all at pivotal times in history. He had been working on a manuscript about this periodically for many years when the CCF approached him to write a book about strokes for the lay person. For someone as multifaceted as De Georgia, this was just too easy. So he proposed combining that topic with the actual history of strokes in world leaders. Alas, the CCF press went out of business. Two years ago, he completely rewrote the entire book, focusing on mostly history instead of the medical aspect. He is currently seeking a publisher for his new book, Struck Down: How Strokes in Six World Leaders Impacted the History of the 20th Century. As he puts it, “History is a messy business.”
De Georgia says he loves living in Cleveland. He feels it is a big enough city that has many of the cultural things he is drawn to, yet it is small enough that he can navigate around pretty quickly. As you might imagine, he is well versed in the history of medicine and healthcare in Northeast Ohio. And, not surprisingly, he has a second book in the works.
Please stay tuned for more information regarding Dr. De Georgia’s book, Struck Down. For questions about this story, contact Jess Lader at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This story is published exclusively by clevelandedits.com.
Jess Lader worked in healthcare administration for 14 years before deciding to pursue her lifelong love of writing full time. She enjoys writing personal essays and is currently working on a memoir. She specializes in writing about mental illness and is devoted to presenting it from a positive and realistic perspective to eradicate the stigma surrounding such disorders. Her work has appeared on the NAMI blog (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the Literary Cleveland blog. She lives in Cleveland with her husband and two cats. www.jesslader.com