Archive for the ‘On the Job’ Category

Bittersweet times

Today I played for a couple – both of whom are on hospice care, but live in different nursing homes right across the street from one another. I had played for them separately once before a few weeks ago. He was very enthusiastic despite being almost totally deaf and had me play for his fellow residents at lunch time. She has dementia and is mostly unresponsive. Today, they were together. He was visiting with her in her nursing home. She was awake, but breathing hard and scratching her head a lot. He asked for love songs. Though deaf, he picked up “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and sang along a bit and held her hand. She reached across to hold his hand with both of hers. It was a very sweet moment. Her breathing softened, and I believe she fell asleep.

Last time we met, he told me they’d been married (I think) almost 70 years. He got emotional then and told me he gets upset when he thinks of his wife. Seeing them together today – I admit I ended the session earlier than I originally intended because I saw him starting to get emotional, and I was about to as well. I believe, though, he wanted me to stop anyway. He was still very kind and grateful, smiling through his tears.

What. A. Day.

Today was already pretty wonky to begin with. I enjoyed myself at the Union game last night (or, not really since we lost to Chicago – badly) and woke up today a bit groggy. Already off to a slow start, I had decided to reverse my initial plan for today and go to the inpatient unit in Trenton first and then a nursing home. Well, I zoned out while driving and got off at the exit to the nursing home instead. Since it crossed a bridge into NJ, instead of turning around, I aimed for the other north-bound highway I knew would take me to Trenton. Somehow I got all kinds of turned around. I almost gave up on the day entirely right there and thought about heading home. Instead, I kept driving and just picked whichever sign pointed north. I had been on this route once or twice before, so I wasn’t entirely lost, but I had no idea where I was in relation to where I wanted to be. Finally I recognized where I was – and I just happened to be right around the corner from the nursing home I intended to go to later. Figuring everything happens for a reason, I went there first as I’d initially planned.

I had a relatively short if pleasant round there. It was almost lunchtime (which is why I wanted to go to Trenton first), and one of our clients just happened to be sitting outside with some guests, so I played for them there. Instead of waiting around for an hour while others ate lunch, I headed up to Trenton.

There, I played for a woman who seemed to enjoy it, which was nice. Then I played for a woman who was hard for me to handle. She was having trouble breathing. You won’t want details, but I admit that I was a bit queasy while playing. After that I felt I needed a break, but then a nurse told me that another man was actively dying, so I headed to his room instead. There, after almost three years with CCH, I played for someone as he passed. I have played for a (very) few actively dying people, but they were still living when I left. The nurse who was there to hold his hand was very kind and asked if I was ok. I’m still working on the answer.

Clearly, death is natural and, working in hospice, I’m close to it all the time. That being said, that experience along with the rest of the day drove me home early. I feel somewhat bad since there were a few more people to play for, but I was just exhausted and came home.

So that was my day. It was a rough one.


I had a couple notable encounters today. First, a woman I’ve played for a few times, not one of my patients, but lives in one of the nursing homes I go to for the hospice. Usually she’s sitting in the corner of her room and her husband sits outside the door. Last time, a couple weeks ago, she sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and her husband seemed very excited that she was singing. This week, she seemed very chatty. She said “My husband’s eyes are blue” as I played that song again (because of the line “Keep the lovelight glowing in your eyes so blue”). I felt like staying for a few extra songs, so she said something about every woman crying once in her life, usually when she has a baby because she’s bringing someone new to the world, and wouldn’t it be nice if everyone in the world loved each other? Maybe we should go down the street and greet everyone “I love you I love you I love you.” She said she cried this morning because she thought she and her husband were breaking up. My favorite line, though (the one that made me laugh, anyway): “My husband brings me flowers every day. I love flowers. You know what else I love? Tomato sandwiches.” Perhaps it wasn’t such a non sequitur – she told me her father, who was a very sweet man, grew tomatoes. She wanted me to be sure that I make people happy. This lady was all kinds of full of love today.

Just after her, on the same floor of the same home, another woman I’d encountered before, also very confused and always yelling for help or a push in a very loud, whiny voice. I heard her yell “I don’t want a rub I want a push” to a nurse who was rubbing her shoulder. Before when I’d played for her she’d yell for a push and otherwise mostly ignore the harp. Today, she watched it and said in the same loud whiny voice “A harp.” Then instead of “I want a push,” she said “I want a harp!” She stayed surprisingly quiet for a while, though a few minutes later after I went to the other end of the hall, as I was getting on the elevator I heard her yell again “I want a harp!” She was still confused and distressed, but I couldn’t help but smile because the harp seemed to stick with her today.

Taking for granted

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it many times again, one of the most important lessons taught in the BSH program is not to make any assumptions. Taking things for granted is kind of an assumption, and despite knowing I shouldn’t do it, especially in this line of work, sometimes it’s hard. I wrote of a patient a long while back, comparing her to Eeyore in her demeanor. I don’t believe I’d be violating HIPAA to name her Peggy (since it’s a nick name and I’m not naming the facility). She has been around since I started with Compassionate Care. Despite her melancholy eyes and voice, she expresses deep appreciation whenever I come play for her. She almost always says “I missed you” and often wonders if I’ve been ill when I’ve been away for long. Lately even my untrained eyes could see her deteriorating, but it really hit today when, for the first time, she didn’t sing along with Eidelweiss. I played it for her every time because she loved it so much and always sang along. It almost brought tears to my eyes when she just stared at the harp. I know she still loved it, though, since she was so relaxed and fell asleep.

That was another thing, she’d often stare at me while I played. Honestly it made me feel a bit fidgety, but I could really see today how far she’s gone since she could barely lift her eyes. She did stare at the harp, though, so that’s a positive. She was still sitting up in her chair, and she still eats lunch with the rest of the residents, but it’s sad seeing her slipping away like that. I’ve only seen her every two weeks (or three or four) for the last year or so- I can’t imagine how it would be with a close relative. Honestly I kind of dread getting the e-mail of patient population updates where we see who’s passed or otherwise changed their status and some day seeing her name.


I walk by a room and see a lady lying in bed on her side, clothed and uncovered, awake. Her neighbor’s tv is blaring, though her neighbor’s not in the room. She’s not watching the tv, just lying there. I go in and turn off the television; that alone eases the atmosphere somewhat. I play gently for her, a bit longer than I usually do for the general residents. She never seems to look at me or acknowledge me in any way, though as I play on, her eyes slowly close and she begins snoring softly. There are no monitors or verbal cues – no external signs of any change in her condition, but I can’t imagine how peaceful it must be to drift asleep to harp music after listening to a loud obnoxious television for goodness knows how long.

This, sadly, is not uncommon. It happens almost every day. People just sit there, sometimes staring at the tv, sometimes not, and it’s turned up extra loud because they can’t hear well. Just imagine then how loud the commercials are. Perhaps it helps them to hear better, but I can just imagine the awful things those loud, noxious vibrations are doing to their bodies. Sometimes I feel like if I do nothing other than turn down or turn off a tv (that the resident is not watching of course), I’ve made a significant positive change to a resident’s day.

Where I need to be

Now I know that my lack of posting isn’t for lack of stories. It’s me not being in the habit. I’ve had some inspiring times especially in the last  couple weeks.

One thing the teacher from BSH, Edie, firmly believes and teaches is that there are no coincidences. This often seems to work in our favor. One day two weeks ago, I intended to go to work early, but was inexplicably exhausted when I woke up in the morning and went back to sleep for another two hours. I was disappointed in myself because I’ve really been trying to be better about having a regular sleep schedule. That day I went to Carney’s Point to play. Our nurse there heard me and came to find me to ask me to play for our patient who was actively dying. I was surprised because he wasn’t even on my list. I went to play for him in his small room filled with family members. I don’t even know how long I played, but our nurse felt the need to come in and “rescue” me – I could’ve gone on. Anyway, I went on to play for another patient of ours as well as for the other residents. As I was leaving, one of the earlier man’s loved ones came to thank me and said that not very long after I left he passed. They felt it was peaceful and that I had helped. It’s so lovely to hear that and reminds me how meaningful my work is.

In other news, I’ve finished all the class requirements for my Mastery level – the online research course (which I’m *so glad is behind me!) and the last weekend module. We focused a lot of self-care and meditation again. I’ve started including meditation into my daily routine and I really love it. It’s not routine yet, but I’m getting there.
Really, so much has happened and I’m sorry I’ve not written it down, both for the sharing and also for myself. Heck, regarding ‘no coincidences,’ I didn’t even mean to click on the button to my website just now. I guess my mouse slip was the universe telling me to stop putting off posting.

Rough Day

So the days have gone on. I’ve finally gotten into a kind of regular schedule after missing a couple weeks because of bad weather.

Today was a very emotional day for me. For the first time since I started with Compassionate Care, I started the drive home with tears in my eyes. One patient I’d been playing for for a while was having a rough time. I still don’t know enough to know if it was what they call “actively dying,” but her breathing was labored and erratic, and there were a few times during the session when I thought she may have gone. Her eyes were looking pretty filmy, like the man I played for a few months ago who was already gone, and she kept alternating between trying to sit up with labored breathing and resting back with seemingly no breath and rolling her eyes back. I lost track how long I played for her, but it was at least half an hour. I think closer to 45 minutes. A good amount of the time I played just simple, quiet, two- or three-note noodling, though I also played a few hymns very softly and slowly.

Sometimes she would lift her hands and point as if she were seeing things moving around. Once she seemed distressed and reached out to touch the harp. A couple times she reached out, and I had no choice but to take her hand. Once she squeezed my hand hard. Her eyes cleared for a moment when she looked right at me and said “Thank you.” She had never spoken to me before in the year or so I’ve played for her. She could acknowledge my presence sometimes and even smile when I played, but never said anything. It was an intense moment. I don’t think I will ever forget that.

Afterwards she continued to  act as she had before, not really focusing on anything, and breathing laboriously. It was hard to leave, but I felt I’d been playing an incredibly long time. She was still alive when I left the room. It was hard to go on after that, though. Immediately after an aide asked me to go into the activity room to play for that jolly bunch, but I had to take a breather. I did play for them, and for another half hour after that, but I found it difficult to maintain my normally bright demeanor. I wanted to go in and check on the lady again before I left, but the door was closed.


UPDATE 3/9: Yup I was right. She passed last night or this morning. I believe, given her reaction, she found some comfort in what we shared, so for that I am grateful. May she rest in peace.


Yesterday I played for a Ukrainian woman whom I’ve seen before. She doesn’t speak much English, though I believe she understands. She was sitting in a wheel chair with an aide by her side. She was very agitated. I know she likes classical music, so I started to play a theme from Finlandia, which was the first thing that came to mind, and she immediately visibly calmed down and even started to hum along. She started to say something in English, and that was the first time I’d heard her speak it. As I played, she became agitated again and tried to get up. She managed to get out of her chair and walk a few steps with the aide close behind with her chair. The aide tried to get her to sit back down but she kept yelling at her in Ukrainian. Eventually she did have to sit back down because she got tired, and she started speaking to me in Ukrainian again. Then she reached out to me and kissed my hand. She pulled further and kissed my wrist. I played for her a little longer, and when I started to leave, she kissed my hand and my arm again. Though my BSH training yelled at me to get to the nearest handwashing area, it was such a sweet sign of gratitude – at least, that’s how I understood it.

Yesterday I also played for a woman I’ve seen a few times, who’s always curled up in bed and rarely speaks. Last time I saw her was the first she’d said anything, and it was to tell me to take a quarter lying on her table! She’s obviously in a lot of pain and to think she wanted to give me a tip – well of course I didn’t take the quarter but thanked her anyway. Yesterday she told me that her daughter just died of cancer and that she hopes she sees her soon. She repeated that over and over. It was so sad. And yet again, she told me to take the quarter from her table.

Latest song learned: On A Clear Day – requested by a sweet lady at Cardinal Village. It’s from a musical of the same name from 1965. Probably the most well-known version is from the 1970 film with Barbara Streisand (I just happen to love Robert Goulet’s voice).

My friend Chucky

In a nursing home in Woodstown, NJ, there’s a little bird named Chucky. He’s my little friend who likes to sing with me. Whenever I walk by, he sings the same two notes, and I play them back, and then we make a little song. I tried to capture it on video today, but by the time I thought of it, I think he got bored, so it didn’t come out well. I’ll try again next time I go. It’s really cute :)

Happy New Year!

Since I last posted, I saw more smiles and tears, got another cold, missed work for car repairs and got snowed in. I had an impromptu recital with a Chinese woman who wanted to sing “Home Home on the Range” with me at a Christmas party, and at that same party got to see another Chinese woman do a traditional Indian dance. At one point in an inpatient unit, I played for someone who had already passed. That was kind of awkward. He may have been around just as I started, but if he wasn’t gone the whole time, he was for the most of it. I was the one to tell the nurses he had passed, though it was really that I asked if he had passed and they went and checked and said yes. In another facility I play for regularly, I made the doctor who’s usually kind of grumpy and who I was sure didn’t really like me (or rather, the idea of a harp in a medical setting) smile with some holiday music.

All in all, the holiday season seemed pretty short because of missed time. I’m glad to have brought some joy where I could, though I’m also kind of glad that I didn’t play holiday music so much that I got sick of it as many musicians do. It was a fun time, and now it’s time to crack down and learn more regular music.

Have a Happy Healthy and Prosperous New Year!