Featured, Words from the Wards

With Words, A Playlist: Finding a Way Back

​​“Do you guys mind if I play some music?” asks Micah, the intern who day-lights as a DJ.

Without any objections from the green team in our amply spaced call-room, keyboard clicks began to be drowned out by electropop.

I am in the seat immediately diagonal from the portable black speaker with cobalt-blue buttons. A few seconds into the first song, I internally grimace and think,

This music is so weird … like Starbucks music…

The first few songs sounded peculiar to my ear. Though there were some tracks that left me feeling question-marks all over, I learned to not mind this peculiar music and gradually accepted it as part of my workspace.

After a few days, I started to not be taken aback by the songs anymore. Not only were they very different from what I would normally listen to, but it had been years since I had listened to that kind of sound. I was transported back to my teen years when Dorothy O’Hare would enthuse about seeing Arctic Monkeys live and Viviana de la Costa would nonchalantly mention Death Cab for Cutie as one of her musical interests. I myself had been initiated into the indie club with Primadonna by Marina and the Diamonds, now known as MARINA.

It was rare for Micah to interrupt the constant stream of songs. What fascinated me was how natural he was with the music. Play, pause, stop, skip and shuffle. The one thing he refrained from doing was replay.

One afternoon, I was studying and sitting cross-legged with my tablet in hand. Through my peripheral vision, I saw the back of Micah’s head strain sideways to look over his shoulder and say, “What would you like to listen to?”

I remember feeling temporarily flustered and expressing gentle surprise. It was a mundane yet ethereal question, laced with kindness. No one had ever asked me that before.

Music engulfed us until he had to move on to his own next rotation. The internal medicine senior resident attempted to take over the responsibility of music manager that first day after Micah left. Faster than he could press next, music faded into an unfamiliar silence, and the pangs of typing away resurged.

“And now to sing this lovely ballad,”
–The Mamas & The Papas, Dream A Little Dream of Me

“I don’t know what it is but I got that feeling,”
–Lauv, I Like Me Better  

“Oh, the tides are turning now,”
–Golden Coast, Break My Fall

“Won’t you let me take you there,”
–Charles William, Where You Wanna Be 

“It changed the way I see the world,”
–Dave Matthews Band, That Girl Is You

“When they get messy, go lefty like Lionel Messi,”
–Justin Bieber & Chance the Rapper, Holy

“She’s laughing now for the first time in a while,”
–Oscar Lang, Something Has Changed 

This is a playlist with select lyrics of songs that Micah played. Only one song on this playlist did not come from him.

After being enchanted by Micah’s musical inclinations, I started to listen to music again. I had stopped during my first year in medical school. My world became an endless repeat of sleep, school, home and study. Without any interludes, time blurred and inertia became difficult to overcome.

Micah brought music back into my life. I was reminded of things I had forgotten, or better said, neglected. I had departed so far from myself in the recent past. While I wanted to return to my true self, I also wanted to keep growing into the person I always wanted to be. My expanding music library was starting to let me break free (slight pun intended).

So, there I was, lying on my bed, listening to this playlist when that song came on. I could explain what the song means to me, but that would defeat the whole purpose. The song can explain itself. Letting music speak for you is what makes it magical. 

While Micah was still with us one calm afternoon, feeling brave enough to overcome my feelings of musical shyness, I requested for him to play that song I had listened to on continuous replay. As it was playing, the expected interruptions came with managing an inpatient floor. When it was over, amidst all the phone calls, pager beeps and knocks on the door, he still managed to comment, “It sounds like a happy song.”

“But you need to listen to the words!” I refuted, seeking an acknowledgment of the lyrics. 

“I am more of a music than words guy,” he quipped back.

This clerkship year has been incredibly transformative. When I come across people that leave a lasting impact, at the end of the rotation, I like to sit down with a pen and paper. 

I had such a difficult time writing down my experience with Micah. None of the sentences were right. Trying another approach, I had a moment of poetic intervention. One quatrain is all it took, fitting for a man of music. Micah may have been onto something. Sometimes words alone can fail to translate what is inside. That is when art comes in — whether acoustic, visual, or performed. 

In the same way our brain convinces us of the reality of our perceptions, music validates the truths within us, integrating everything that comprises our human experience.

Image credit: Who says the mix tape is dead? by jinjaSi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Ana Jimenez (2 Posts)

Medical Student Contributing Writer

City University of New York School of Medicine

Ana is an MS4 at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Medicine. Her other interests include art, nature, and wildlife.