By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC
Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.
I was recently asked to visit with a gentleman, in his late 30s, in the oncology unit of the hospital where I work. He was currently in the hospital as a result of complications from chemotherapy treatment and I was referred to see him as he was feeling quite ill, with some pain and was having trouble coping with his treatment and hospitalization. He is dealing with a rather aggressive form of cancer. I introduced myself and sat down in a chair next to his bed. He looked very tired and down, but welcomed me warmly. When I asked him how he was doing he paused and said; “Its been a tough day.” After a few moments of silence, we chatted briefly about his treatment and his stay in the hospital. Then, looking to move the conversation, I asked him what kind of music he liked to listen to. He said that he was from Egypt and he liked to listen to music from his country. I asked him to tell me about it, tell me about what he liked, what styles of music, what artists. He said it was hard to explain. Then after a moment, he grabbed his phone and pulled up a music video on YouTube. I told him that I thought it was very cool…and he smiled (for the first time that I saw). I asked if he could show me another video. And he did, this time explaining a bit more about the singer. He was now showing a bit more energy as it seemed that he was enjoying telling me about his music. (Don’t we all like to do that?) Again, I told him that I really liked what I was hearing and I thanked him for sharing with me. I then said that I had my guitar with me but I didn’t know any Egyptian music but I asked if he wanted to hear something. He said that he didn’t really know much “American music” and then said; “You pick. Play something you like.” So, I started with the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’. He smiled and said that it sounded a little familiar; he said he liked it. He asked for another; “one of your favorites” he said with a smile. This time I played a Foo Fighters song. He smiled and I noticed his head moving slightly up and down to the beat. (Perhaps he couldn’t help himself despite his condition.) I told him that the Foo Fighters was one of my favorite bands and that I liked rock & roll. He said, “me too!” Next was Green Day…more smiles and more moving to the beat.
As I was playing and singing, I too was moving my head up and down to the beat and strangely, I was having fun (as was he it seemed). And then I thought, is it okay for me to feel as though I was having fun? Then it struck me. I had almost forgotten that I was sitting in a hospital room in the oncology unit, with a patient who was quite ill. For a few moments we were just two guys, sitting around, talking about and sharing music. For a few moments, he was not a cancer patient and I was not a therapist. We were just two guys. And it was music that made us “just two guys”.
This actually happens often in the hospital when you add music to a compromised situation; music that is meaningful in some way. And isn’t all music meaningful in some way? Yes, he was going to go back to being a cancer patient with more tough treatments ahead and I was going to go back to being a therapist, getting referrals to see more patients who were feeling bad, but for about 45 minutes, we were just two guys, sitting around, talking about music. And that was good.
The healing power of music…
(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)