A hospice patient with Parkinson’s and accompanying confusion is rocking back and forth in his bed when I enter his room in a care facility. At his side an aide is trying to keep him from falling out of bed saying, “No, you’ve got to stay in bed”. He explains the patient has just been put back into bed (being a high fall risk he cannot be in his chair while alone in his room) and the aide needs to leave.
Welcome to my world as a Music Therapist.
Thankfully, this is not my first visit with this patient. I had never seen him this physically agitated before, though I had heard he could be combative at times with staff. I knew he loved religious music so I sat next to the side of his bed and the aide gratefully left his post. I began playing the patient’s favorite hymns. I started with “Amazing Grace” and then “In the Garden”. Throughout all this time he continued rocking back and forth in his bed. I decided to match the tempo of the music with his body motions and began playing old Gospel songs, chaining together “I’ll Fly Away”, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Count Your Blessings”. Suddenly the patient stopped moving and said, “I’ve got to quit”. Something about how he said it made me stop and wonder if he wanted me to quit…. so I did. And then he said, “Unless you want to do that second one again”. WOW!!! He had been processing the music all along.
I had to think back but then asked if he wanted “In the Garden” again and he said, “Yes”. I began the song. His body rocking never returned and this time he sang a bass line along with me. During the song the patient’s daughter walked quietly into the room and heard her father singing. When we both noticed her and they greeted I was ready to end the session but checked it out with him first. “We could do that last song again”, he said. We did but this time all of us sang in three part harmony.
Two of us had tears in our eyes as I left the room.