Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Note( 02/07/13)
Note After Note
By Carolyn Ancell
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It isn’t a fraidy-cat fear that makes me pause. It is the trepidation that comes with entering the privileged and sacred ground of another’s life, and praying that I will do no harm, praying that maybe I might offer some measure of comfort.
I tune the harp, one note at a time, in fifths and octaves, carefully monitoring the tones and overtones. It isn’t that the patients here in the hospice IPU will be writing a critical review of my playing for tomorrow morning’s arts page. It is simply that they deserve the best I can offer. I couldn’t be more attentive to detail if I was preparing for a concert in Carnegie Hall.
An RN approaches and asks, “Could you begin in Room 6 please? She is in respiratory crisis.”
The patient is in bed, her head and upper body slightly elevated, her family gathered tearfully around her, trying to comfort her as she gasps for breath. The circle opens to receive the harp. For half an hour I play, letting each note resonate out peacefully, wordlessly encouraging the patient’s breathing to soften and relax. It does.
Yesterday, the patient in Room 2 was sitting up in bed, reading his Bible and witnessing to all who came in. We sang hymns. Now he is non-responsive. I sit next to him and hold his hand. After a moment, I turn to his friends and family and say, “Perhaps we shouldn’t interrupt his intimate conversation with the Lord today with familiar music. How about I play to support his breathing and peacefulness while we all pray for him?” They readily agree.
The wife of the patient in Room 5 is in the dining room. “There is no point in your going in today. We’ve been trying to rouse him all morning, to no avail.” I think back to yesterday. The patient’s room had been packed with people, all talking and watching television. I remember that the patient had kept his eyes riveted on mine as I played, as if he was trying to hear each note above the cacophony in his room. Today I assure his wife that the harp music might still provide comfort, go in alone, and begin, following the rhythm of the patient’s breath. After a minute, a hand lifts from the bed, fingers wave, and the patient softly whispers, “Hullo.” “Hullo,” I whisper back. When the harp and I emerge from the room, the patient’s wife asks, “Well?" I answer, “He seems very comfortable.”
The spiritual counselor tells me that the fellow in Room 9 has had no visitors. The patient does not respond when I ask him if I might play for him. Thinking he may not be able to respond, and remembering what the spiritual counselor has told me, I play “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” At the end, the patient speaks distinctly and emphatically, “Do it again.” I do.
“The patient in Room 3 was a concert pianist. She is now blind.” I am unprepared for how young she is, only in her 40’s. “I am a fellow musician. May I play my harp for you?” There is no response. As I begin to play, the patient slowly rolls away from me and from the sound of the harp! I think I have offended her, and am about to stop when she slowly rolls back, then lifts one arm in the air and waves it in time with the music. She is dancing! Soon, we exchange roles. She leads, sometimes moving, sometimes pausing, waiting, once just wiggling her fingers. I follow, creating accompaniment to her artistry. I do not yet know that tomorrow when I come through the hospice door, anticipating a new dance, I will find her bed empty; or that coming out of the chapel after shedding tears of both sadness and gratitude, I will be met by a social worker who will say, “The patient in Room 8 is alert and oriented, but sad.” I will pick up my harp, and head in his direction, the notes rising in my heart and the words forming on my lips, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”
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