For centuries, in indigenous culture drumming has been the healing heartbeat of the earth and its peoples. Western medicine has generally considered such thinking nonsense and unscientific, but I think drums sneaked back in over 200 years ago.

As a little boy in the 1700s, Leopold Auenbrugger watched his innkeeper father tap wine barrels to determine the different sound at the level the barrel was empty. Years later, as a physician in Vienna, Auenbrugger used this knowledge to tap a patient’s chest to determine levels of unhealthy lung congestion.

In 1816, French medical doctor Theodore Laennec read Auenbrugger’s writings and was concerned about the heart health of an overweight patient. At that time, the only way to determine healthy heartbeat was to place one’s ear on the patient’s chest, but obesity made it difficult to detect sound.

One day, walking home, Laennec watched children playing, scratching a pin on a long board and squealing with delight at the amplified sound on the other end. Pooling this discovery with Auenbrugger’s “chest tapping,” the doctor went home and rolled a cardboard tube as the first primitive stethoscope. This simple invention allowed the drumbeat of the heart to be heard and healed, even through a heavy torso.

I found this story years ago when I first came back from being a stethoscope-carrying army medic. I was drafted the minute I graduated with a broadcast degree, delaying my dream to build a television show where children could move beyond the prevalent local shows of the 1950s, being performers, not just the studio audience. Sadly, when I returned, local children’s shows were being eliminated nationwide, and “Thank you, but you have no experience,” was my welcome home.

Persistence and synchronicity connected me with an innovative, story-loving doctor, Karen Olness, at the early Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. With her blessing and respect for both indigenous and innovative scientific healing, I was able to start a call-in channel where patients made television themselves, starring as doctors listening to the heartbeat of their teddy bears. Even if they were immobilized, in traction, in their room, they could be the voice, over the phone, for a puppet on the screen.

Olness knew a healthy heart sends digested nutrients from food and water, as well as oxygen from the lungs, in the blood, throughout the body. She knew the ancient wisdom that food, air and water serve the body best when not polluted, but she especially knew that children (even adults) heal more slowly if stressed out by fear of shots and surgery.

Olness gave me the opportunity, as a returning veteran, to create a special channel with the old proverb energy: “A merry heart does good, like medicine.” The channel (still going today) carries important sound, like the stethoscope, giving children healthy fun to override stress and pain. It helps hospital caregivers keep children’s hearts in tune to the beat of an ancient drummer.

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