JAMES AND KATHERINE'S* LOVE SONG
*names changed to preserve anonymity
When I got to my first building the other morning it was rainy, soggy, and grey. I sat in my car for an extra few seconds planning to somehow "pull one over on the rain" and get across the parking lot and through two sets of doors without getting myself and my gear wet. Right.
As I was drying off my guitar case an employee was walking my way saying, "Oh, they're waiting for you!" This is the part where I have no idea which direction the day will go. I have been told that before and have walked into everything from people who are pleasant and content to one of those crazy full moon kind of days where there's jello in the flower vase and everybody has the heat set on 87.
I could not have predicted the sweetness I was about to witness. You see, James and Katherine are sweethearts. James knew I was coming that day and had asked Katherine to be his date. He was waiting in his doorway and perked up when he saw me with my guitar. He promptly told me that he and Katherine would meet me "in that little alcove on 600 hall". "I think that'll be best", he said. He started maneuvering his wheelchair in the direction of Katherine's room while giving me instructions to "go on ahead".
A couple of minutes later they had arrived, locked their wheelchair brakes, grasped each other's hands, and were requesting songs. He asked her if she'd like some Country. I obliged while they made googly eyes at each other and effortlessly sang the words to Patsy, Hank, and Loretta. Next, as if asking for a refill on his tea, James said they might like some "good ole Gospel songs", which naturally, meant we were going to have church in that little alcove. They clapped, I played, and we all happily sang Mansion Over the Hilltop, Uncloudy Day, and Victory in Jesus. We had discussions in between songs all about where they learned those songs, where they sang them and with whom, and what records they had. By the time we were finished we had accumulated several guests who had stopped to join in, but James and Katherine didn't mind at all. (The singing coming from the staff passing by and at the nurses station is another story for another day.)
Very often I hear things like oh, you're so nice to volunteer, or they just love this entertainment. This could not be further from what is actually taking place. Music Therapy is a clinical specialty, requiring formal schooling in music, medicine, and psychology with board certification required for practicing. James and Katherine benefitted from Music Therapy for many reasons. Here is a short list:
1. They were given autonomy. In a skilled nursing community, choices can be few and limitations many for a variety of reasons. They planned the date, brought themselves to the location of their choosing, with the companion of their choosing, AND chose the music.
2. They were exercising self-expression by being on a date, hand-holding, affectionate expressions, singing, clapping, and participating in discussion.
3. Music (especially familiar music) triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. In a nutshell, this is linked to psychological and behavioral benefits.
4. Social, cognitive, and verbal skills were being exercised.
5. Muscles needed for speaking (making needs known/communicating), chewing (receiving nutrition), and breathing (lung function and oxygen flow) were being exercised during singing. This maintains independence.
6. Singing also promotes increased oxygen saturation, which can improve cognition and circulation, promote wound healing, lower heart rate and blood pressure, facilitate relaxation, and relieve stress and anxiety.
To James and Katherine it was a date. To me it was clinical proof that what I do is worth it.