The sounds of healing, or lack thereof.

Research shows that a patient in hospital endures 135 different types of alarms daily. Hospitals are often louder than a highway during peak hour and sleep deprivation and frustration around noise is one of the most common complaints in hospitals.

Yoko Sen is a talented Japanese musician living in Washington. She is about to change what is one of the biggest complaints from hospital patients; the awful noise in these institutions which prevents healing.

Yoko fell ill in 2012 and spent weeks in hospital. The sounds were torture to her ears; ears that were used to music and art were suddenly bombarded by the cacophony of alarms, monitors making ominous sounds, beeping, doors slamming, staff running, the squeaking of trolleys and people screaming.

While in hospital, she was connected to four different machines, each one constantly emitting a different sound. She was not sure whether she would get better and after her recovery wrote, “ The constant rhythm of a cardiac monitor ticking like a time bomb reminded me every second that my life is finite”.

The heart monitor was a C note and often, in the distance, she would hear someone falling out of bed, an F sharp. She was aware of each horrid sound, and couldn’t help identifying it’s pitch, and this amplified her fear and feeling of utter helplessness. Yoko recognised the so-called tri-tone, She explains that our bodies involuntarily respond to the dissonance with tension and unease. It therefore makes no sense that we should have these sounds in a place of restoration and healing.

Florence Nightingale said, “Unnecessary noise is the cruellest absence of care.”

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Yoko was blown away that medicine has developed so much, that we have come so far and can do so much, but this simple principle has been ignored to date. She started speaking to nurses and doctors and found them incredibly open and willing to work with her on the dream she envisioned of humanising hospital sounds.

She interviewed many patients and health workers. She asked questions like What does healing sound like? What does love sound like? Is there certain music that can speed up recovery?

Her team is now working with big companies and changing the soundscape of the health environment and her aim is to ensure that sounds should are functional and safe, but also respectful and gentle. Sound should be a public good, like health and safety.

When we collect a guest from hospital they say, without exception, that the noise in the corridors of the hospital drove them crazy and prevented rest. This is in the general wards. The complaints from ICU are even worse, as there are many more machine noises and the confrontation of light 24 hours day.

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At Recovery, none of us are to speak our ethnic language as we realise that if we do, we tend to speak louder (remember, I am Afrikaans… we are loud!) We value silence. We put out bird feeders to encourage birdsong in our garden and the pool’s water is a constant peaceful reminder.

We have not won with the hadedas yet, and until we can prevent them from screeching when flying overhead, we are not completely noise free, but we are firm believers in the power of silence and beautiful sounds for recovery and healing

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