While working in hospital the other day Nick and I found ourselves robed in plastic aprons playing to a young boy in an isolation room. He was disabled and had limited sight. He looked about 7 and was lying on the bed wearing only a nappy with various tubes coming out of him and rocking from side to side seemingly agitated and in a state of discomfort.
We stood at the end of the bed and played for him. We started off with something quite upbeat to match his agitated state and then gradually changed what we were playing as he seemed to calm down. The rocking and movement became less and what we were playing seemed to be calming him. As we were playing a doctor came in and carried out a process involving syringes and tubes that were taped onto the boy. This took a few minutes and we continued to play as the process went on and after it had finished.
We continued to soften our playing and the boy became calmer and calmer and eventually fell asleep. As we left there was a feeling of calm in the room and gone was the sense of agitation and discomfort present when we arrived.
I was left wondering to what extent the music had calmed the boy and how much the medical process had resulted in him falling asleep. This ambiguity can leave a strange feeling at first. As musicians we hope that our music has a positive impact on everyone we encounter but when we work with people in hospitals there is so much that we don’t know about the patients circumstances that often we have to content ourselves with not knowing the impact of what we do or even in some cases if there is an impact. This requires the development of a certain resilience based on confidence in what we do and our ability to carry out this work sensitively and appropriately.
In a circumstance like this two words from our training come to mind: Beneficence and non-maleficence. Keeping in mind that what we do must have a benefit or at least must not be harmful to the patient. In the case above I was sure that the music was not causing any discomfort to the boy, I was guessing that he liked it and hoping that it was soothing him. I couldn’t be sure that the music had sent him to sleep but that didn’t matter.