Staying Centered Through Music
Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Da’Marcus Baymon, MD, a Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine resident at Mass General Brigham.
The silence that commenced in the spring of 2020 chilled my bones. What happened to our lives? What was happening to the world around me?
In stark contrast to that silence of the world, my head was filled with extremely ear-piercing thoughts and worries. The Brigham’s Emergency Department was a place I had grown to know well. I spent so many hours in the hospital taking care of patients, performing procedures and intubating, but I never thought the volume of those procedures would increase to the magnitude that happened during the harrowing spring months.
The patients during the COVID pandemic were some of the most critically-ill patients I had ever seen in residency. Every day, my anxiety attacked me without recourse. I could feel the hairs on my arms stand up through my thick Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine (HAEMR) jacket. When I started to feel the emotions accumulate in my throat, I knew what I needed to do to calm down, to re-center myself in this newly unfamiliar yet familiar environment: listen to music.
My Day in Music
During the height of the pandemic, and even now, in the mornings, I get my day started by listening to a mini array of songs. I start off by listening to “Good Day” by Nappy Roots, “Just Like Magic” by Ariana Grande and “Bloodstain (Shirt)” by SZA. During the pandemic, I would frequently dream about patient cases and scenarios that I had encountered in the Emergency Department that day. These songs help me process my dreams. When I hear those songs, I am able to reflect on what lesson that particular dream was trying to teach me. After processing my dreams, I like to focus on something positive to get my day started in the right direction. Soon after I center myself, I quickly check my work emails and messages, review my calendar and plan the day.
After my morning routine, I frequently head to the gym for an intense workout. When I lived in Jamaica Plain, I would often run by the Brigham and take in the scenery in a different context. For me, the hospital is often associated with heavy stress and high demands of the academic clinical environment. I am usually rushing to get to work to take on the high volume of the Emergency Department to the best of my abilities, finish notes and work on other academic projects. When I would run, I viewed the Brigham with a different lens. I often play the same songs I played on my run before I walk into the hospital, so I can calm myself to the state I attain when I exercise — the athlete’s state of intense Zen. I often listen to “Freedom” by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar and “Formation” by Beyoncé.
I Got This
During the pandemic, I had never seen my blackness so televised. My experiences as an African-American were being displayed on TV as if these issues have not existed since the 1950s and 1960s. I lived a reality for years that now seemed like a dream. Before the mass media took interest in covering topics related to racism and discrimination with such misguided noble valor, Black people have been closing caskets of our slain children for decades. While in the gym, trying to reach my intense athletic Zen, TVs glared all around me and served as a reminder of the various troubles that exist in the world. I experienced media trauma while trying to untangle the stresses that consume my life. My grandfather was almost arrested for the protest in Alabama in the 1960s. I was ready to relive my grandfather’s experiences. Protests occurred all over the country, even at the Brigham. The hospital steps became a convergence point where all of my personal, professional and lived experiences met in an unorthodox manner that I was thoroughly unprepared for.
After my workout, I usually have to get ready for a shift and that is when I turn on “I Got This” by Jennifer Hudson. “Packed all my clothes, shut the door. Back on the road to success.
Hopped in my two-seater, just me and the dream beating the pavement… I got this, every single breath another step on my road. I got this, I’m from the south side trying to get to my goal. I got this, ain’t no stopping me.” Those lyrics fill me with the vigorous motivation that I crave to get through the day. I get on the blue and green line and continue to reflect.
I think about how far I have come. If I had a movie title for my life, it would be “From Texas to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (and all that’s in between).” I remind myself that as a Black man, although there are not a lot of people in the hospital that look like me or share my experiences outside of work, I am capable and I am deserving of the title “doctor.” I got this! After reflecting, some days I may have a brief study or reading session, get off the train and head into those large double doors below the sign “EMERGENCY”.
Giving Myself Mercy
While walking into work, I often play “Cover Girl” By RuPaul. It’s just a fun pump me up song. The Emergency Department can become a tornado of chaos and this song allows me to find my focus before I start patient care.
After a busy day at work, I may play “Human” by Rag n Bone so that I get out of my own head. I am pretty hard on myself after work. I think about what went well and how I could have improved. I perseverate about everything sometimes. I think about my gaps in knowledge and how I can overcome my own deficits. I am only human and being human comes with perfections and imperfections that change throughout the day. We have to give ourselves mercy sometimes.
Before bed, I sit on the couch, look out at the ocean and turn on “Good Days” by SZA. “Good day in my mind, safe to take a step out. Get some air now, let your edge out. Too soon, I spoke, you be heavy in my mind. Can you get the heck out?” I often yell that last part. This song is a stark juxtaposition to the first song that starts my day. Although the song titles are the same, they evoke very different emotions. The vibrations that tickle my ear drums are vastly different. I must center myself. I try to end the day with gratitude regardless of the outcome of the day. I have to think about all of my experiences and how they will contribute to me being better the next day as I start to build another scene for my movie: “From Texas to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (and all that’s in between).”
One Response to “Staying Centered Through Music”
Dr. Baymon I deeply appreciate your reflections. For me I found myself gravitating towards Miles Davis and what I might call his “in between period” of the late 1960s through the mid-’70s. He was leaving behind the more “traditional” jazz that in fact he’d helped develop over the previous 20 year, and as he was “finding his way”, he put out these recordings (like “Big Fun” and “Dark Magus” among others) that annoyed many a “jazz critic” because much of the material came off like long directionless jams. I had never really listened to this music before, but for some reason, during the long work hours and stresses of the “pandemic period” I found this music to be exceptionally comforting. This also seems like an “in between time” and the “musical searching” is just what I needed.
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