Playing instruments while your brain is getting operated on is so last decade. Ask "Donna," who recently whipped up a traditional Italian snack while surgeons were removing a tumor from her left temporal lobe. The BBC and ABC News report that the 2.5-hour procedure took place recently at the Riuniti hospital in Ancona, under the direction of a team of a dozen or so neurosurgeons, nurses, and anesthetists, plus a psychologist. Undergoing what's known as "awake brain surgery"—in which the patient is kept alert and engaged in an activity during the procedure so doctors can monitor and calibrate their actions—Donna set to work preparing 90 "Ascoli-style" olives in under an hour. Neurosurgeon Roberto Trignani, who led the medical team for this case, has completed about five dozen of these awake surgeries, with patients doing everything from singing and playing instruments to watching cartoons.
But the BBC notes the preparation of the olive dish is somewhat more complex, as it involves cramming seasoned meat into the olives, then coating them in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before they're fried. What activity is chosen for each patient depends on what part of the brain is being operated on, as well as what the patient is familiar with. "A sick person enters the hospital and finds himself in an unfamiliar environment," Trignani told Italian media, per ABC. "With this system, we try and make him feel that he is in a calm and familiar environment. He collaborates, and we work better. This is the humanization of treatment." Interesting Engineering links to a pic of Donna, via an Italian wire service, preparing the olives in her makeshift hospital kitchen. Trignani said the procedure went "very well." (Read more strange stuff stories.)