For one reason or another, I got to spend a little bit of time recently in an ambulance with a paramedic from my local hospital.
I talked about how making music can help to reduce the boredom and anxiety experienced by children who spend long weeks and months in hospital and how the sound ecology of hospital wards can have a very negative impact on young people. I told him about some of the older people that we work with who are living with dementia; people who can’t remember who their own daughters are but who can sing along to every line of “Fly me to the Moon”.
I expected a bit of cynicism back or maybe a polite nod, but the Paramedic grinned and handed me his iPod. It was loaded with songs from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
He said that he assessed a lot of older people in his job and that a lot of those older people were living with dementia and got understandably anxious about the journey to hospital. So he rigged up a speaker system in the back of the ambulance. He plugs in his iPod and plays music that he thinks might be familiar to the people he meets. He said it is just incredible how much it reduces their anxiety. He’s a musician himself and likes to sing along. The music gives him something to chat about; it creates a connection.
I am so often struck by how many professionals I meet in the NHS who completely get why music is so important to the people they look after and who can articulate the benefits of either listening to or taking part in music far better than I can. And while proper evaluation and research is vital, in my experience, healthcare professionals do not doubt what they see with their own eyes. They absolutely know what a child experiencing the joy of music looks like. I am reminded by this meeting of how much we have learned as an organisation from healthcare professionals who seek to care for, as well as cure; who see the child beyond the health condition and who understand the place of music alongside clinical interventions.
3 years on I am still blown away by this statement made by Dr. Kamal Patel one of our “champion” Consultants at The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.
“There is no medicine that I can give a child, that makes them light up the way that music does. Music…helps me be a better therapeutic agent for the children I look after”
Last year we were asked by the Brighton and Sussex Medical School to run an optional Music in Healthcare module for student Doctors as part of their third year studies. The eight-week module enabled the students to tap into their own musicality and to use this to create interactions with children in the High Dependency Unit at The Royal Alex. I was impressed by the students. They clearly grasped the skills needed to make music with very poorly children and could see how these same skills would help them be better Doctors. Skills like sensitivity, trust building, creative thinking, team work, self-reflection, mirroring and observation.
One student’s comment particularly struck me:
“I have finished my Paediatric medical training but no one has taught me how relate to children. I am in my early twenties, I don’t have any younger siblings, nieces or nephews. I have never actually picked up a baby. This course has given me a way to build trust and rapport with children and I feel much more confident for it.”
This year we are running our Music in Healthcare module again. Working with student-doctors gives us an opportunity to demonstrate how Musicians can be used as a resource in acute hospital settings, to advocate to a wider audience and hopefully to broaden students perceptions of how they can help their future patients in a wider, more holistic sense. They may end up working on a ward with a participatory Music in Healthcare programme where they can support the integration of music into the daily life on the ward. They may incorporate simple techniques and ideas into their own practice, using simple songs or percussion games to build trust or to distract an anxious child. Like the Paramedic who bothered to think about how he could use music to reduce anxiety. He didn’t need to run a clinical trial or raise thousands of pounds to do this. He loaded an iPod and bought the right lead with him to work.
Towards the end of our journey, as we approached the Hospital, the Paramedic said to me “There is no culture on earth that doesn’t make music. Its universal. I don’t understand why music isn’t integrated into hospital care”.
I thought “That sounds familiar” and said “No, me neither”