Archive for the ‘On the Job’ Category

Is that all?

Today a man made me smile with that question. He is a new patient for me. He was in bed watching tv when I came in and started playing. He fell asleep in the middle of it, a reaction I rather love because I know the importance of rest. I tried out one of my new songs, which I really shouldn’t have because it has a lever flip in an odd place, and lo and behold, he woke back up. I played another song to get him to sleep, and he started closing his eyes. By that time it’d been about 15 minutes, the amount of time I usually spend with the hospice patients. He seemed asleep again, so I stopped and was about to take off the harp when he said “Is that all?” So I played him two more soft tunes and put him back to sleep. He was totally out when I left.

Also today I was amazed by the look of peace on a woman’s face while listening to my harp in an oncology treatment room. Generally in this place people are in reclining chairs receiving chemotherapy and other medications, sometimes for hours and hours. This woman said she had just seen another harpist earlier this week – I wonder who it was! – and seemed so peaceful as I played. The smile on her face in an otherwise not-so-happy place is why I do what I do.

Reading people

I’m still not good at it. When I ask if I should stay, and someone says “Yeah whatever,” they’re obviously upset about their current situation. It still leaves me confused as to whether I’m really wanted. This happened at the bedside of someone actively dying yesterday. A male family member and two female family members were there. I asked if I should stay or if they wanted me to come back later, and there was some hesitation. One of the women asked the man, and he just said “sure.” Although I am there for the patient, the last thing I want is to have a negative impact in any way with the family. The situation is so deeply personal, and despite the fact that I view myself only as a deliverer of comforting music, I’m still there as a stranger in the room.

Despite my misgivings in the beginning, the time spent with her was lovely. After allowing me to play, the family even moved from her side to let me in. She wasn’t really focusing on anything. As I walked in I heard one of the family members say “spacey.” When I asked her favorite song and they said “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” I was incredibly relieved that I knew it. I played that and some other slow popular tunes of her day. For a while she looked straight at the harp, and even straight at me. At one point her left eyelid drooped and I’d swear she winked at me. I don’t know if the family saw that, but I’m grateful that I stayed and played – because I think she was, too.

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.

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 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!

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.

Musical balm

“You don’t know it, but your face looks so relaxed right now. Before you were all [makes tight face].” – Nurse who called me into resident’s room to resident 3/3/2010

“See? She’s making you feel better” – Resident to her baby doll 3/3/2010

“Can you just follow me around for the rest of my shift?” “Be sure to find me next time.” – Nurse 3/3/2010

“That’s so soothing. I felt it go straight to my heart. See? It’s good for your heart!” – Visitor to resident 3/4/2010

Today a woman was crying. She was very lonely. I sat with her a while and played some hymns since she had a charm bracelet with crosses. She talked the entire time about how she was lonely, and by the end, the tears had stopped, but she still sounded pretty angry. She finally stopped talking about the people who left her, but then she started talking about one of the residents whom she doesn’t like. She did acknowledge that the music was beautiful at one point.

I also finally realized the power of playing non-specific music very simply today. I started to play a song, slowly, but the patient got agitated. I changed to a different song, and she was still agitated. Then I switched to non-specific noodling, and she calmed down.


I learned a new song yesterday. Three Coins in a Fountain from the 1954 movie of the same name sung by Dean Martin (also recorded by Frank Sinatra, The Four Aces, and Jack Jones) as requested by a gentleman at Post House in Glassboro, NJ. Today I played it for the first time (at a different venue). One man from whom I’ve never really heard much coherent said “three coins in a fountain”. I was so pleased he recognized it and showed signs of liking it. Normally he grumbles to himself, though once he did start ‘singing’ “You Ain’t Nothin But A Hound Dog” when I played “Love me Tender.” :) He’s a man one could easily assume is ‘not all there,’ but he acknowledges me with his eyes and these occasional musical connections. It’s wonderful because he’s one of those visibly affected by harp therapy. Today’s was such a short moment, but of a significance where one couldn’t say it was “just” a moment.

There was another encounter today where one of the residents’ daughter told me she noticed the whole hallway quiet down when I started walking down and playing. That was really nice to hear, because I don’t always notice the change in dynamic when I’m focusing on the individuals. She was so appreciative of the soothing music for her mother and for the rest of the residents. That’s something I really need to keep better track of. I got to a point in my internship, and I suppose still now with my work, where I heard something like that so often that I stopped recording it. For these people it’s so novel and special, and what more can a person say than “Oh thank you that is so soothing” or some variation thereof? I will make it a point from now on to keep better track. It’s nice to be appreciated, but rather more important to know how many people I’ve touched with my music. Sometimes people aren’t verbal with their thanks. Some people can’t be, so I don’t have any more proof than the appreciation of their peers and my intuition that they can hear me and I’m having an effect on them without checking their monitors, which I can’t normally do in the nursing home setting.

The pros and cons

Yesterday I was finally able to get out of the ice and get to work. The two days previous were highly frustrating because for all that I chipped away, I couldn’t get out.

I got a really nice comment from a gentleman. He said, “You don’t know this, but I’m hard of hearing. I can’t hear when people speak to me. I heard your music. It was lovely. Thank you.”

It really was lovely to hear that. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand the science (if any) behind it, but it’s wonderful to have that quote in my collection in case anyone says “Oh she’s deaf” in the future.

On the down side, there was a woman in a hallway just in front of the nurses’ station calling for help. I put myself in her view hoping to comfort her, but she just kept calling for help. A nurse came up and told her “Listen to the nice music. Isn’t that nice?” The woman cried “Sure it sounds nice, but it can’t help me.” While I understood she was having a problem, that was rather hard to hear. Hard, but important. When you’re surrounded with smiles and compliments, it’s good to have a reminder that what I do isn’t a cure-all. Nothing really is. I’ve seen people have such wonderful relaxation responses to my harp. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but what does? For the many who are positively affected, it is profound.

It ain’t over til it’s over

This classic Yogi Berra-ism comes to mind after hearing a special story yesterday. I had a gig playing for the closing of a hospice wing in a hospital. They’re transferring, so it’s not over, but they were there for a long time, so it was still a sad occasion. But that’s just the context. After the ceremony, a man came up to me, complimented my music, asked about my last name, and kind of out of the blue launched into a story about his wife. He said he had been helping her dress when she fell out of the chair and broke her arm. After they discharged her from the hospital, he realized he couldn’t take care of her himself and had to take her back. He talked about how the trauma of the broken arm shocked the rest of her 94-year-old body and she wasn’t doing very well. Then he said he didn’t know how to grieve. He told me he had been brought up in an orphanage, so for his whole life he’d never let anyone get close to him. He had never really grieved before. Until now for his wife. Then he started to get visibly upset and said “See? I’m getting broken up right now. I think I’ll go. Byebye.”

I was a little shocked and confused because this seemed to come from nowhere. It turned out he had been telling everyone his story. This is how he’s been dealing with his grief. He says he doesn’t know how, so he just tells everyone he can about it to let it out. Later on I heard others talking about it, and to make the story even more amazing, it turns out they had gotten married 10 years ago, both for the first time. He was 70 and she was 84! She held the door open for him and it was love at first sight. It’s enough to make you get a bit misty. The women I was with and I certainly did.

This reminded me of a story of one of my BSH classmates who hadn’t played an instrument before, picked up the harp at 73, and at 76 was becoming a certified harp therapist. I may have gotten the numbers wrong. It may have been 76 and 79. The point is she is well up there in years and still learning new and fantastic things.

It just goes to show you, life really does go on and keeps happening. Some times are harder than others, but really, it ain’t over til it’s over.