Our first visit of the year to Nottingham QMC in January 2014, and Rich and I went into E40 Ward first thing in the morning and checked with staff for advice on where to start playing and who to work with.
We walked right to the end of the unit, passing a sleepy patient on the left who was having a good cuddle with his Mum and watching TV. We met a lively little girl who listened to our music first of all, and then joined in with actions and singing and then happily explored the box of instruments, each one in turn, fully. After playing with all that we had to offer, she then showed us a squeezy plastic concertina that belonged to the hospital, which she had been enjoying the previous day.
Our sleepy friend next door had been listening all the way through this interaction and had woken up a bit now. We began playing Waltz vor Polle for him, and then a melody that he knew, The Star of the County Down, as Mum told us that they were a family who sang a lot of folk songs together and that was one they knew. His attention was then drawn to our box of instruments and he tried out the frog, various shakers and the cabassa. There was no speech from him during this entire time, but a little smile had begun at the corners of his mouth and Mum indicated that was a very good step forwards for today. Our engagement started to come to an end – Mum commented to us that he nearly said goodbye – and tried to encourage him to sign and say bye to us. Just as we were potentially finishing our interaction, another young man returned to the same bay from some kind of treatment, with his head wrapped in a bandage. He was crying upon his return, but saw and heard us as we started another piece and he joined us with shakers and smiled.
After this piece, we had a little time out, cleaning our instruments in the play area adjacent, and this second boy starting really crying as his head was obviously uncomfortable. The crying became more intense and we decided to start Sunshine, and played for the whole room. By now, the first young boy’s father had arrived from parking the car, and Mum was telling him how their son had engaged with us and nearly spoke. This seemed to be something of note regarding his stay in hospital.
The whole room was engaged with our piece – parents singing, the multi-coloured toy bear was being made to dance by the first little boy – he himself wriggled on the bed – the tears from the boy in the other bed stopped. The song ended and some toast arrived for the second boy, so he could focus on something nice to eat. The first boy started talking to us a lot – it was fairly jumbled speech, but had the rough overall meaning of saying he had done a lot there and was tired, and he lay down on the covers with his bear as if to rest. Mum and Dad seemed delighted.
We both walked out of that ward with tears in our eyes, and had to take time out to reflect on the whole engagement and change our mood ready for the next patients. We do not know what was happening in terms of the illnesses or traumas of these two children and their families, but we left with the distinct impression that we had made a huge difference that day. Somehow the music, incorporating sung words, had reached the first little boy in some way that speech could not. He was perhaps more relaxed and able to respond to the song verbally than he could before to the spoken word. A connection was made – we don’t know how temporary or permanent, but it felt like one of great impact at the time.
Later we learnt from the Headteacher of the Hospital School that she had spent some time with the parents of this young man, and it had indeed been an important day where his speech had occurred for the first time in a long while.