A patient at Norton Audubon Hospital who became a paraplegic with limited use of his arms and hands desperately missed playing the keyboard in his brother's band. Music therapist Jenny Branson enabled him to recapture some of his old magic by presenting him with a Q-chord, a digital autoharp designed for people with limited motor abilities.
Music offers relief
Patients reduce pain, stress through Ky. hospital's therapy program
The man called his brother and said, "Dude, listen to this. That's me!" recalls Branson, an orchestral percussionist who also sings and plays guitar, dulcimer and piano. "He had tears running down his cheeks. At this point, so did I. I had been sent in for pain management. We never got to the pain management. We didn't need to."
Although most stories probably haven't been that dramatic--the majority involve her playing music for patients, not the other way around--Branson has more than 1,000 such experiences to share about patients she's seen during the past 14 months who are wracked with pain or anxiety, and in some cases, are near death.
"Today, a patient with several readmissions came back. The nurse said, `She's so agitated. She's in soft constraints. I don't know what you can do,' " says Branson, adding that she lulled the woman to sleep. The nurse's "eyes got huge, and she said, `That's the most calm I've ever seen her, and she's been here for weeks.' " Adds Branson, "Most performers don't like it when their audience falls asleep. Those are my best days."
In addition to Branson's services, 248-bed Norton Audubon, Louisville, Ky., provides an in-house listening library of more than 1,500 recordings for patients and staff. These services--which patient-satisfaction scores show meet patients' emotional needs, improve their stay and would be used again--have garnered Norton Audubon the Spirit of Excellence service award.
Funding did not come easily: Hospital chaplain Keitha Brasler, who championed the idea, received a grant for the music library from Joanie Lerman, widow of pathologist and music lover Robert Lerman, who had received great comfort from a similar facility at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where he had been a patient.
"Seeing how much he enjoyed that passive listening to music and what a difference that made to him, I went to our director of nursing and said, `Why don't we make this available?' " Brasler recalls.
But music therapists told her the library would accomplish little without a therapist. It took another 18 months to find the funding to hire Branson. "That was the dream and the vision put out there for us," Brasler says. "I've heard from some nurse managers, in particular, who tell me now-they didn't tell me at the time--but back then they were thinking to themselves, `That would probably be a nice thing to do, but it couldn't work.' "
Even now, medical staff often have to see Branson in action to believe in the clinical relevance, Brasler says. "A light bulb goes on: `Oh, I get it now!' " she says. "It took us awhile to get there. They thought it was a nice thing to do, but in terms of a medical intervention they weren't really understanding how it would work."
"Music can really get to the spirit when particular patients are suffering," says Dave Winslow, a physician at Norton Audubon. "Somehow the music seems to block that out and bring them to a more peaceful state."
Branson says patients with chronic illnesses often ask for her when they return to the facility before she's even aware they're back. "They'll call, and they'll say, `I'm in room so-and-so. Come on up,' " she says.
Judge Edwin Oley, president of Allen Medical Center in Oberlin, Ohio, said he thought the service programs overall were "outstanding ... The hospital industry is focusing on service excellence and the bar continues to be raised."
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