I love my work playing for patients at the hospital. Each patient is unique with varied circumstances that require a unique musical prescription. Since I primarily play for ICU patients, most of them are too ill to respond or speak or acknowledge me in any way. I sit by their bedside and watch their responses register on the monitors as I weave improvised melodies or my own compositions. Since they are unable to speak, I rarely play a piece that would be familiar to them since I would not know if it could be linked with a emotionally charged memory. (Cannot afford to tap into a negative memory when they are so ill) Instead, I seek to bring down their heart rate and stabilize their pulse using soothing melodic phrases made up just for them. If you think of the music like a food, then you can imagine I try to play them a musical elixir or broth that is easy to digest.
Every now and then though, I meet a patient in different circumstances that call for upbeat songs. That was the case today when I walked into the room of a woman who was awake and receptive to the music. We immediately struck up a lively conversation about music and artists she loved. Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, Johnny Cash to name a few. Her mother used to play the guitar, so she was really excited that I also played it.
Since she was the age of someone who would likely appreciate The Beatles, I played for her, "Here Comes the Sun." She instantly brightened and sang along. Then she requested, "Yellow Submarine." I played what I remembered of the song and she burst into tears, saying that her mother (now deceased) used to sing her that song when she was a child. I then played her one of my own compositions, "Choose the Sky" and she got the idea to video tape me so that she could show her daughters. After my song, she requested I play, "Yellow Submarine" again and got the idea to improvise my own lyrics to the verses based on things she told me. I sang:
"Now your mamma used to sing this song to you, when you were young
and we sing it here again so that everyone can sing along
We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine…" etc…
When we finished singing together, she put her camera down and threw open her arms and we hugged for a long time as she cried. She said, "That brought me so much peace!" You helped me so much!"
What she does not know is that she also helped me so much. It is not often I have people like her who are so responsive to the music. What she did not know is that I purposely went in to work today because I had troubles of my own I wanted to put aside. My favorite way of helping myself get through a rough patch is to do something for someone else. For that whole time I was with this woman and sharing our stories and music, we both were able to put our troubles aside. I also know my own "troubles" pale in comparison and I left feeling so grateful not only for all that I do have but the gift she gave me of feeling I was helpful.