Take nothing personally

So today another of our internship lessons came to the fore: “Don’t take anything personally.” I was at a facility to visit some of our hospice patients, and when I went to play for one of them, her nurse was there and said she didn’t think it was a good idea. She (the patient) had been agitated all day and she had finally gotten her morphine and was still somewhat agitated. Here I thought “well calming is exactly what I’m here for!” Instead I meekly said “Well, calming is kind of exactly what I do,” but she reiterated that while she’s sure my music is beautiful, the patient was agitated and getting ready to pass. Grrr

During the internship, it was easy. Any staff member’s opinion or direction trumped because we were volunteers and guests of the hospital. In this case, I’m a co-worker, and I feel like this nurse impeded me from doing exactly what I was there for. Now I have to figure out if there’s anything diplomatic I can do about it. I don’t want to run to my supervisor and sound like a tattletale while perhaps causing some kind of resentment from the nurse. At the same time, she needs to understand why I’m there. Or maybe I do. Hopefully this can get resolved for future reference, but I’m afraid that this patient may pass before I get a chance to play for her.

On the upside, I did what I could do and stood outside the door and played even though it was closed. At least the intention was there. Plus, another nurse stopped by and for the minute or so she was in the room, the door was opened a bit, so some of my music was able to reach the patient. I’ll never know if it really touched her, but I can hope.

Latest song learned (I knew some of it before, but not the whole thing): Moon River from Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

To speak or not to speak

During our internships and classes, we learn that when playing at the bedside, talking as little as possible is best. Most of the time I wouldn’t even introduce myself, I would just go in and play. Then I learned that maybe it’s nice to introduce myself and even ask if the person wanted to listen to some music. Sometimes. Depending on my perception of the alertness of the patient. Of course, if a patient spoke, we learned it’s ok to respond as long as we don’t turn it into a conversation and try to steer the patient from turning it into a conversation.

The hospice job, however, is very different. Working in nursing homes is not at all like working in the hospital because the residents aren’t necessarily very ill unless of course I’m in the nursing or dementia unit. Conversing can be ok as long as we stick to the rule of not giving out too much personal information. That is up to the individual to decide. I don’t mind telling residents my name is Kitty and I’m from Philadelphia. Group hours can be awkward because I’m still used to not speaking. I’ve come up with a little spiel, and sometimes I remember to introduce songs. I’ve gotten better over time. The lunch hours are even more confusing because I’m supposed to be background music, but they treat it like a performance and clap after every song. I’d like to be able to tell them that it’s ok to focus on their lunch and not clap! Though one, I’m still trying to be in the background, and two, it doesn’t really seem my place to tell them not to clap. I just feel kind of bad for the ones who do want to eat, but might feel they should clap because everyone else does.

Yesterday I finally started back on my list of songs to learn. This one is a little more difficult, but I’ve mostly got it: Days of Wine and Roses – by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini for the 1962 movie of the same name. Someone asked for it a long time ago – I think in a lunch room.

Just for the patients

Today I had a different kind of day. Normally I go to two or three facilities in a day and stroll the hallways to play for the general populations as well as Compassionate Care Hospice patients (with whom I spend more time). Today I went to five or so and spent some extra quality time with some patients – most of whom were new to me – and in a couple of those facilities didn’t play for any of the other residents. Now that I’ve been given more facilities to play for, I’ve got to arrange my time more clearly with marketing hours and patient hours. I still have a slight feeling of guilt when I don’t play for others, especially if I’m walking through a hallway and someone points to my case and says “What’s in there?” and I say it’s a harp. They say “Oh are we going to have music” kind of excitedly, but sometimes I have to tell them “Not today” and in my head continue with “and I’m not sure if ever.” Going back to my “Making choices” entry, the problem is, now that I have more places to go, I don’t have the time and/or energy to stay at each one to play for the rest of the residents. I believe, though, that I will be able to arrange my schedule such that I play in each facility at least once a month for the general population as well as the patients, and a second time just for our patients. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it seems to work on paper and in my head. We’ll see how it goes…

The Beauty of Technology

Today while I was eating lunch, I realized that I wouldn’t really be able to develop my musical ability without today’s technology. For the most part, I learn by ear. Without musical recordings, it would take a long time to get around to hearing all the songs I want to learn enough times to burn them into my memory. Generally I have to hear a song at least three times in a row to get the tune down, and then I listen to different sections to get the chord progressions. This would be near impossible on vinyl and such a pain with cassettes. Thus, this post is a shout out to the wonders that are CDs, digital music, and especially Youtube. With Youtube, I don’t have to buy the individual tracks just to listen to them on the internet, and that is a beautiful thing given the number of songs that are out there for me to learn. Some time in the relatively near future I hope to start putting up clips on Youtube.

(Ok, well technically I could work really hard to learn to read and play note-perfect without the distractions of television and the internet, but that’s another story entirely ;) )

Making choices

When I was doing my internship at RWJUH Hamilton, I would go almost every day during those first few months and spend long hours. I would play for everyone I possibly could, and when someone asked for me, I’d go without question. Nowadays, as far as I know, my job is to play for the hospice patients and the general facility populations. Sometimes, though, when targeting my patients, I feel like I don’t have the time or sometimes the energy for the others. I know it’s not necessarily my job. In fact, since I’m being paid by the hospice, unless I’m doing a marketing thing like a lunch or group activity coordinated with the facility, they probably would like me not to spend much time with non-hospice residents. It just makes me feel kind of bad since I don’t have all the time in the world like with my internship, and I’m definitely not a volunteer who can take as much time as necessary to play for everyone possible.

The upside, however, is that I reach more people that I can get to know than with the internship. I work in a very wide area and play for a large number of people. While the populations don’t rotate as much as in a hospital, it’s nice to have repeat visits. I have the opportunity to ask people what songs they like and then go and learn them and come back to play them. That seems a special delight for these people.

Speaking of which, the latest song I learned: Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Though – oh dear! I just learned that I only learned the chorus. Apparently there’s more to the song. Speaking of choices, generally that’s the part that people remember most anyway, but it helps to lengthen sessions to have a whole song. So, to learn the whole song or stick with the chorus? Of course I’ll go learn the rest. Here’s the whole song that I’m talking about.

The long hiatus

Oh my my my. I can see that my lack of regular writing growing up has stayed with me into adulthood. I could give all kinds of excuses like three moves (into and out of one house for house-sitting and *moving into my own new apartment*) and two weddings to practice for, etc, but the truth is, I’m just an inconsistent writer. I’ve *thought about writing every day, but that doesn’t really seem to come to fruition. As usual, I will say that I will try again this time.

So, as I said, I am feeling incredibly successful because I am now able to support myself by being a harp therapist! Thank you Compassionate Care Hospice! Life seems to be moving at an incredible pace for me now and there’s always something I need to do.

One story that sticks in my mind since I last posted, and it was only a few weeks after, I missed a death. It was a new patient that I don’t believe I had played for before, but it still made me sad. There was a cleaning crew outside of his room, so I avoided it, meaning to come back. It was a long round, so I started to leave when one of the workers asked if I had played for Mr. Soandso. Smacking myself in the head, I rushed (as much as one with a harp on can) back to his room where I saw his nurse. She saw me and came towards me saying “He just passed.” I felt simply awful. I know we often say that things happen for a reason, that that’s the way it should be, but I can’t help but feel upset that that man was listening to an industrial carpet cleaner instead of beautiful harp music. May he rest in peace.

More to come. Now that I have consistent work, I should be able to come up with something almost every day. Here’s to trying again!

Talking about harp therapy

Twice in the past couple weeks, I had an opportunity to speak to groups of people about what I do. The first was my mother’s eighth grade music class. Of course it’s towards the end of the year and there were some sleepy-heads and some chatterboxes, but I got to talk to them for a whole hour and play my harp a bit. My mother’s idea was to show them other careers in music besides just performance. During the talk I came up with two nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned in the course of being a harp therapist.

  • You don’t have to read music to make music.
  • You don’t need applause or verbal thank yous to know you’re appreciated and have made an impact.

I told them the story of the woman who was unresponsive but cried at a song during my internship. Some of them seemed vaguely interested and some even asked questions. My favorite was “Do you get paid to do this?” I happily replied, “Yes! Yes I do!”

Also, last week I was part of an in-service about complimentary services offered for the hospice team. It was great to gather with some of the staff who I rarely get to see, and tell them what I do for them. The hospice also provides massage therapy and reiki to patients. I’m so happy to be part of a health care team that takes a holistic approach to palliative care. Of course it means a job for me, but also it’s so lovely to see how much they really care about their patients and want to make them as comfortable as possible in as many ways as possible.

Playing for smiles

One of my favorite parts of my job (probably my most favorite), is drawing smiles from people who probably don’t have much occasion to. There are some people I see repeatedly who I especially love to play for because I love to see them smile. One, for example, I saw yesterday. I’ve never seen her out of her bed, and often when I go in, she’s talking and she sounds very sad. She’ll say an Eeyore-like “hello,” and then I’ll begin to play “Jesus Loves Me” or “You Are My Sunshine,” and she smiles and laughs and sings along. Yesterday I played both, and when I was finished and started playing for her roommate, she began talking and sounding sad again. I was about to leave when she spoke to me directly and said she missed Santa Claus this year and asked me to ask him to come around. I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, but I started playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and she laughed and sang along again. Afterwards she said a somewhat cheerier “bye-bye!”

I have another patient I see out in NJ who I’ve been told is generally a “half-empty glass” kind of person. One day I got a call from one of the Compassionate Care social workers just to tell me that this patient told her how much she loves my visits and is always eagerly awaiting the next. There really is nothing to make someone’s day like being told your work is appreciated. I still haven’t quite gotten a smile from her, but last time I saw her, she sang along to “Eidelweiss,” which I quickly learned is her favorite.

In other news, today I got a certificate for passing the National Institute of Health’s online course “Protecting Human Research Participants.” I took the course as a requirement for the Bedside Harp mastery-level certification, and now if I am ever involved in an institutional research study, I have this under my belt.

Two new songs I learned:

I Love You Truly – a parlor song from the turn of the century by Carrie Jacobs Bond, popular in 1912 recorded Elsie Baker. Also recorded by Pat Boone, Victor Borge, Al Bowlly, Bing Crosby, The Ink Spots, Liberace, Guy Lombardo, The Platters, and Lawrence Welk, and of course – Al Martino.

and O Sole Mio – a Neapolitan song from 1898 made popular by the likes of Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, and Elvis. The lyrics were written by Giovanni Capurro, and the melody was composed by Eduardo di Capua.

A lot on my plate

I keep realizing there’s more and more I need to do. First and foremost, I need to make a research page. There is a great citation list here at Bedside Harp (most of which is thanks to one of my colleagues, Cheryl Kripke-Cohen), but I’d like to expand on it. For one, I’d like to see all or most of them myself and be able to write some kind of summary for those that aren’t publicly available or not online, but of course I’d need to be careful of copyright issues. I’d also like to have a page of recent articles that I find interesting and relevant. For example: West Virginia University is doing a study on the effects of live harp music on chemotherapy-induced nausea. That is so exciting! Especially since I’ve started working in an oncology suite that’s partnered up with CCH. I’ve already contacted them for more information.

Of course, above all, is learning new music. Luckily I have enough suggestions and requests to keep me busy for a while.

A couple more hymns

Two more songs learned today:

Lead On O King Eternal


God Be With You Til We Meet Again

I have a patient I see every other week who loves to hear church music, so I have to work pretty hard to keep it diverse. Works for me, though. I’ve been needing to learn hymns. Once again, youtube is super great. Well, that and the ability to match pitch. I’d be lost with sheet music!