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Reflections on our Music to Heal Orientation.
Soon we’ll be sending our Young Healers, about a dozen musically gifted teens from the Orange County High School of the Arts, into our partner hospitals to share their music with patients. They attended an orientation on Saturday, March 20 at the UC Irvine Medical School campus. Lhea Villareal, a sophomore music and theater student at OCHSA had this to say about the morning,
“I learned an incredible amount of valuable information about music therapy, and how to integrate it into the lessons. The instruction from Virginia, Matt, Tim, and Melissa greatly inspired me, and reminded me that these lessons truly make a difference in patients’ lives."
Virginia Liu, our VP of Hospital Programming kicked off the morning training with some “Rules for Grown Ups” supplied by Millers Children’s Hospital. Each slide framed an important rule with a young patient’s quote. Here’s a summary of a few slides:
1. Don’t Surprise Me. “I hated when doctors just came in, woke me up and started doing things to me. Please let me know what you are doing way before you touch me.”
2. Be Honest. “I get really upset and people make me cry more when they say something isn’t going to hurt. It hurts.”
3. Ask My Permission Before You Touch Me. “The doctors almost always asked if they could touch me or press on my tummy. But many times they would be touching me even before I could say yes. If you already have your hands on me, why are you asking me if you can touch me?”
4. Get Down on My Level. “Don’t stand over me, because it scares me. I get scared because I think, ‘Oh no, what is he going to do to me?”.
5. Try not to wake me so many times. “Why do you have to wake me up so many times during the night? I would finally get to sleep and have a nice dream and then somebody would come and wake me up. It was a nightmare.”
6. STOP SAYING IT’S NO “BIG DEAL.” “I didn’t like it when people said it’s no big deal to get your blood taken. It’s a big deal to me. It is a big deal because you’re taking something that’s supposed to be in my body. It might not be a big deal to you because it’s not happening to you.”
That got us all thinking about how very different giving a music lesson to a child in the hospital is from the lessons our musically talented “Young Healers” are used to. There is a lot more to think about than just sterilizing the guitar or keyboard before the lesson. Being really sensitive to how fatigued the patient is, explaining what you are going to do, allowing them to say “No”, getting down on their level, and engaging them in fun ways that don’t invade their privacy were all topics we spent the morning talking about together.
We were especially touched by our two guest speakers. Meredith Rattay, Program Director, from the Grossman Burn Center in Santa Ana gave an enthusiastic invitation to begin working in their center. Before her talk I had wondered myself what it would be like to visit a burn unit since I find even thinking about severe burns very unpleasant. She put us at ease though by explaining that at the Grossman Centers any skin scraping is done in surgery and all the patients would be well bandaged and more than happy to experience our musical talents. She also talked about how the young patients are still very “active” little children and can be delightfully curious. I am sure once the details are worked out some of our young healers will be able to help out in one of the finest burn centers anywhere.
Then Tim Ringgold, Director of Sonic Divinity Music Therapy Services, concluded the classroom session with some remarkable insights about the impact music has in clinical settings. He explained how playing music involves so many parts of the brain that it can be an effective pain blocker. Researchers know this phenomenon as the gate control theory of pain. The pain signals can’t get through because the nerve highways are already full. Tim also pointed out that rhythm is a basic and essential part of the human experience starting with our heartbeat. Music therapy can be as simple as sitting with a patient and using some shakers to play a beat together. We even learned that a patient can be calmed by starting a beat at a faster rate and then gradually slowing it down.
Our morning orientation ended with Matt Fradkin and Virginia Liu taking us to the UC Irvine Clinic Skills Center Center where we could act out patient interactions in rooms that looked just like hospital rooms. They went through very detailed presentations on what an actual lesson might look like and gave the students a chance to experiment and put into practice many of the things we talked about earlier. So check back on our website in a couple of weeks and we will try and post a story about our first music lessons in the hospital.