Nov 18, 2011, 9:13 AM
Post #1 of 1
By Dr. Michael Gordon
I hear the refrains as I enter the common area on the sixth floor that houses a palliative care and a complex continuing care unit. Itís the piano being played by Dr. Irv Koven, a retired surgeon whom I have known for 35 years. He can play anything Ė jazz, pop classics and good old ďoldiesĒ that the patients can hum to and move to in their chairs, in time with the musicís rhythm. He always has a smile on his face as he plays.
I met Koven when I became the medical chief resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1975. I met him fi rst through the patients he referred for consultation as I began my medical focus on elders. There was not yet a specialty in geriatrics, but when initially recruited, I was given the opportunity to learn on the job by attending to the older patients, including those who were transferred from Baycrest Geriatric Centre for medical or surgical treatment or were applying to go to Baycrest after their Mount Sinai hospitalization.
I learned about Kovenís musical talents at the first holiday show I attended during my fi rst year at Mount Sinai. In the show, students, residents and staff physicians brought humour and music to the audience of Mount Sinai staff. I was impressed by Kovenís musical virtuosity as he pounded out song after song in a medley of popular classics.
Over the years that we both worked at the hospital, we shared many elderly patients. I always found Koven extremely sensitive and thoughtful and a fine and considerate surgeon. When I moved my practice primarily to Baycrest and then accepted a major administrative role, I was delighted to discover that he had agreed to be our consultant surgeon there, which meant he attended periodically at our geriatric clinics, thereby helping patients avoid the trip downtown for a consultation or followup after some surgical procedure. I know that the patients and the staff enjoyed working with him because of his warm and engaging manner.
Now, having retired from surgical practice, he continues to bring joy to the patients of Baycrest. Born in Grand Falls, N.B., he started piano lessons as a child and used his musical talents throughout his years of education. While attending high school in Montreal, he was attracted to the special qualities of jazz and added that genre to his popular music repertoire. While studying medicine at Dalhousie in Halifax, he continued playing the piano at parties and other gatherings, making him a very popular guest. This love of music and performing continued through his years of training in surgery at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
He was recruited to Mount Sinai in Toronto, first as a surgical resident, and then on staff as a surgeon. He served there for 51 years, and for 40 of those years, he also had a University of Toronto faculty appointment.
Now retired, he still brings music and joy to patients at Baycrest playing for one hour weekly, and thatís where I encounter his always smiling face as he delights patients, many of whom have severe complex illnesses. They are gathered around him and his piano in a large open space between wards bathed in natural light, where the gardening program also occurs. Thus, music and greenery become part of the lives of those cared for on the hospitalís sixth floor. Kovenís contribution to their quality of life is enormous and a tribute to his dedication as a lifelong healer in surgery and through the magic of music.
Dr. Michael Gordon is Medical Program Director, Palliative Care Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System in Toronto, Canada and Professor of Medicine, at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Gordon is the author of the engaging memoir Brooklyn Beginnings: A Geriatrician's Odyssey, published by I-Universe.
Brooklyn Beginnings is available in bookstores and online at: Indigo-Chapters, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and I-Universe
Moments That Matter: Cases in Ethical Eldercare: A Guide for Family Members, is available online at Amazon.ca.
His latest release is Late-Stage Dementia: providing comfort, compassion and care. It is available at Amazon and Indigo.
Visit Dr. Michael Gordon's website.