As soon as I saw the expression on the faces of the staff at Doug’s House, I knew something was wrong. Our patient, Mr. Smith,* they told me, was not feeling well and would be going to the hospital. He would have to miss the concert that had been arranged especially for him.
I had worked with Swan Songs, a nonprofit that links musicians with seriously ill patients, to set up this concert for Mr. Smith. It was too late to cancel – the musicians were already en route – so we asked our other patient at Doug’s House if he would be interested. Doug’s House is a residence for patients with HIV. Mr. Jones* said that he was having some stomach pain, but that he would sit at the bar in the kitchen and listen. I was a little disappointed that all of our planning for Mr. Smith was falling flat.
The 5-piece band arrived and started playing. Halfway into their first song, EMS arrived on the scene for Mr. Smith. The band continued to play through all that was happening at the house. Mr. Jones left and I thought that he had decided to go lay down, but he came back with his oxygen and sat down at the table. He started bobbing his head and clapping his hands to the music.
Soon, EMS was wheeling Mr. Smith out on a stretcher. What happened next was something special! The band simply followed Mr. Smith out, playing like a Dixieland jazz parade behind the stretcher and out into the street as he was being loaded up into the back of the ambulance. The band didn’t miss a beat. All of us now outside were in tears as we watched the ambulance roll off. We didn’t know for sure if or when Mr. Smith would be back, but it felt like Mr. Smith had been able to have his concert after all.
The band came back inside and continued to play. Mr. Jones requested, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and he was so moved by it that he took off his oxygen, got up and started dancing! He then took the hand of the Swan Songs Liaison and the two of them danced together in the living room. He had the biggest grin on his face the whole time, even though he was really having some pain. At the end of the concert, he thanked the band for “bringing him back home.” It turned out that he is a native of New Orleans and hadn’t been back in 29 years.
This experience reminds me that music has healing powers, and that sometimes when it seems like everything is going to fall apart, something even better results. It is your support of nonprofits like Swan Songs, Doug’s House and Hospice Austin that make moments like this possible. Thank you.
Carly Bassett, LCSW, ACHP-SW
Hospice Austin Social Worker
*not his real name.