Saturday, March 6, 2010

Was Chopin Polish?

I arrived at the board and care (or maybe it was an ALF...) over a half and hour early, but sadly, the beach was no close enough this time for me to take a quick stroll around. Instead, I sat in my car, snacking on some trail mix, and scratching off a lottery ticket. Well, I lost. First time since I've been in California. I'm now 2 for 3. Not bad I guess... not that winning scratch-off tickets is anything to brag about. But anyhow, the MT arrived, and we went inside to see the pt. He was a doctor himself, but suffers from dementia. The MT informed me that she usually does a group when she visits him, and that sometimes, the aide there even joins in on guitar.

The outside of the house was tightly guarded by thick metal gates and security cameras, but inside had a warm, cozy feeling, complete with a roaring fireplace projected on the TV. The residents were all gathered in the living room, perhaps awaiting our arrival. The Doctor and his wife were sitting side by side, he in his wheelchair, and she on the piano bench next to him. They seemed excited to see the MT, and smiled simply, as a small child would do.

Since they had a piano, I played a few classical tunes to start off the session. It was certainly the most unique sounding piano I've ever played -- the notes above the third space C clanked like china, and the notes below bellowed in their out-of-tune glory. As I sustained the last chord and released the pedal, I prepared myself to turn around and see patients with their hands covering their ears. It was not exactly the performance I aspire to give. I surrendered and turned to face the room full of patients, only to see more of those simple smiles of childhood. "That was wonderful, thank you so much!" the man in the far corner of the room said. Well, maybe it wasn't really that bad then... or maybe their hearing impairments masked the four different sound timbres the old clunker produced (not to mention my missed notes here and there.)

The session rolled on as the MT and I played songs from ago. The pts smiled and nodded as we sang. The doctor and his wife, although terribly off-beat, clapped along to the music. How funny to think that this man went to years and years of medical school, had a successful career as this prestigious MD, yet he can't even clap to the beat of a simple 4/4 song. Just makes you realize how different people are -- what is difficult or easy for one person may be just the opposite for someone else. Maybe for him, memorizing medical terms comes as naturally as me clapping on beat!

As we continued to sing, I noticed the home's aide was highly involved with his patients each and every moment, encouraging them to sing and participate themselves. He looked only a few years older than me, and had long black hair that could compete with the length of my own! After a few songs, the MT offered the guitar to the aide, asking if he would like to play some songs. He happily accepted, and harnessed the guitar around him. He played some tunes by The Cranberries and a song by John Lennon. We tried to sing along since he was too shy to sing by himself. Although he didn't choose songs the patients really knew, I think they appreciated it just as much since it was someone they see every day and who they are close to. The music plus that intimate day-to-day relationship and familiarity is something we can't really offer our patients, so it's always good when a loved one or caretaker steps up to the plate and offers music of their own -- it adds a level of significance that the MT and I can't fake or recreate.

We wrapped up the session and said our good-byes. It was a fun little group of all very nice people. As the aide led us to the door, I turned around to see who else but the doctor's wife, a 4-foot little Asian woman with the most innocent childlike grin of them all. The MT stopped at the door to write a quick note in the pt's chart, the doctor's wife still standing there. We talked to the aide before we left, thanking him for playing and such, laughing a bit during the conversation. As we laughed, the little Asian woman laughed too. She had no clue what she was laughing at, I'm sure, but if one of us laughed and then looked at her, she gave out a little laugh too. She continued to follow us every inch of the way, her hands behind her back, like a little girl following her big sister, hoping to be accepted and be more like her. As we walked down the sidewalk back to our cars, the MT and I turned to look at the house -- the little woman was still there, standing at the door, watching as we walked away. I felt like I was abandoning a small child -- I think she wanted to come home with us! She was too cute! But I know she'll be just fine where she lived. It seemed like a very nice place to live.

Our next stop was back to that place I've been going to again and again. I feel like I need to give it an alias name since I refer to it so often. Hmm... how about, the Back Again Subacute, since it seems no matter what I do that day, I always end up back again at that subacute facility. Well anyway, the MT was there to assess a new admit. As we walked up to the nurse's station, a man was laying in a stretcher, his eyes wide open and focused on seemingly nothing, yet most likely something to him. The MT asked one of the nurse's the room for our new pt was, and sure enough, the poor man in the stretcher was ours. The MT went over to the patient and introduced herself. She sang softly to him and caressed his head. It took about five minutes for him to actually look at the MT, but when he did, I think it meant she finally got his attention. Soon after we arrived, our chaplain followed in suit. He performed his assessment after us, and I stood and watched. The pt and I had what seemed like a stare-down contest for a good couple of minutes. I didn't want to look away since I felt like it was an accomplishment on his part to be looking someone in the eye. I smiled at him as the chaplain spoke comforting words to him. The poor man had a tremor in his hand and mumbled to the Chaplain about random things like a girlfriend, etc. Poor guy... I don't think he had a clue as to where he was or what was going on around him...

Our third patient was our little giver of kisses from God. I knew her board and care had a nice piano, so I was eager to play her some tunes. I remember she really liked listening to the piano during our last visit. I played for her Chopin's Eb and B minor nocturnes. She shared how it reminded her of the music she used to dance ballet to. The MT led her in some slow, graceful arm movements, mimicking that of a ballerina. I asked her her ethnicity, crossing my fingers for her to say Polish -- sure enough, the patient is Polish. "I think Chopin was Polish," I told the patient. "Oh, was he really?" she replied. I don't think she believed me, which made me doubt my own historical knowledge. I debated it in my head for a minute, then explained how his piano music was big during WWII (I think I only assumed this since all the music from The Pianist is Chopin...) She still didn't really seem to believe me, but finally agreed that maybe that's why the music sounded so familiar to her. Well, I at least tried to relate the music back to her personal life.

We spent the rest of the visit with guitar and voice. I asked if there was any songs she'd like to sing, and YES! she's 2 for 2! -- she asked for "Amazing Grace." I finger-picked the chords on guitar as the three of us girls sang. The MT had me slow the tempo down since the pt had trouble keeping up. She closed her eyes, as if she was in deep spiritual reflection.

The rest of the session continued in that way. She told us how she wants to be a nun and teach nursing. She said that even from a chair, she can still inspire young girls to become nurses. Everything she said related to God. Again, she mentioned her 'boyfriend' being Jewish, and said that he agreed to convert. The MT and I didn't really know what to say... but anyway, I asked the MT to sing "How Great Thou Art," since I thought it was a good song for the moment and I didn't know the chords. I held the patient's hand as we sang the spiritual hymn. It's great how much the pt gets into the session and finds a deep spiritual and emotional connection to the music.

So anyway... we stayed for almost an hour, singing spiritual tunes and offering her emotional support. Her son and daughter-in-law came right as we were leaving (perfect timing!) so it was nice to get to meet some of her family. The son told us how he used to play saxophone, french horn, and guitar. It only took two minutes of talking to this guy to realize how much of a band geek he was. They're so easy to spot, and whether they still play music or not, the band geek within never dies. There's some sort of familiar feeling I get with band nerds... it made me miss all my friends at home...

And now for our last visit of the day -- our pt who's mother just passed away under our services, and who uses us as her musical guinea pigs. Our social worker was there meeting with her, so the three of us sat on her bed and listened to her tell stories from her mother's funeral service. Then, as if three workers in her room wasn't enough, her doctor comes in, plopping down on the bed right on next to us (almost squishing me...)

We weren't alone with the pt till probably almost a 1/2 hr after we got there. She handed us sheet music to a hymn her and her sister are going to sing at her mother's memorial service next weekend. She doesn't read music, so she sees us as these musical translators who can interpret whatever she sings into written notes. She kept trying to change keys at the end of each verse since she felt the song would be too boring otherwise. The MT nor I had no clue what keys she kept modulating to, so finally I tried to structure her singing by giving her a key to modulate to. She mentioned how it's hard for her to read the words off the page, so I suggested she have someone type up the words for her and print them out in a bigger font. Well, that "someone" is actually me -- so now it's my job. Not sure why I didn't just offer to do it myself in the first place...

And.... that's all for now, folks!

Happy weekend everybody! Sorry I didn't post this last night...

Congrats to Pittsburgh for their little heat wave! (I hear it's supposed to hit 40 degrees! yay!)

Peace and love.

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