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Sharp Health News

Hospital volunteer turns talent into healing

Nov. 2, 2018

Hospital volunteer turns talent into healing

Volunteer Mark Shatz entertains patients, families and caregivers in the lobby of Sharp Memorial Hospital.

Mark Shatz spent the bulk of his career building airplanes. It was 50 years of engines, gears, pumps and bearings. Now retired, he looks back fondly on the detailed, technical aspects of the work he did.

But engineering isn’t Mark’s only skill. He’s also a seasoned guitarist — a craft he loves because of what it isn’t: technical. “Music is something that you feel,” he says. “It’s not mechanical. It gets in your heart, and it makes people feel better.”

Today, Mark uses his music to do just that: make people feel better. He plays twice a week in the lobby of Sharp Memorial Hospital, and once a week in the Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion. It’s his way of giving back to his community, while doing something he truly loves.

Mark got his musical start at age 8, when his father gave him a ukulele. “He only knew three chords,” he says, “and I played those chords to death.” At 12, he took guitar lessons, with an urge to play rock ’n’ roll songs — like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. But his teacher had other plans.

“He wanted his students to play old standards and classical pieces. So my friends and I would take turns standing guard when he wasn’t around, so we could play the good stuff,” says Mark.

In 1968, Mark joined a band. And they were good. So good, that they booked up to three gigs per weekend. But with his engineering career in full swing, managing music and work became a tall order. “It was exhausting,” he says. “It finally got to a point where it wasn’t sustainable, so I gave up the guitar altogether.”

For 33 years, Mark’s guitar gathered dust. It wouldn’t call on him again until deep into his retirement. “I was a docent at the San Diego Museum of Art,” he says. “One of the volunteers threw a party, and asked me to play ‘Happy Birthday.’ It felt great to play again, though I didn’t have the confidence to take other requests.”

Mark went home and dug up his old music books — reliving the thrill he felt when music was such a big part of his world. He began to remember why he loved music in the first place; not for the mechanics of it, but for the joy it brought him and the people around him.

The idea to bring that joy into a medical setting struck him when his wife had knee surgery. To help her relax, and take her mind off of medicine, he brought his guitar to her hospital room and played for her. He noticed the effect it had on her, her caretakers and other patients, so he started the process of becoming a volunteer guitarist for Sharp HealthCare.

From his spot in the lobby, Mark sees lots of patients and their families. Some stop briefly and listen. Some sit for a while. And some even strike up a conversation. “At first, I was uncomfortable talking with patients about their injuries or illnesses. I felt a bit like an outsider. But then I started realizing that this is what makes them happy: sharing their story, while I play music for them.”

Volunteering in a hospital setting isn’t always easy. People can be scared, sick or afraid. But Mark always remembers what he learned in volunteer training — that from the moment he puts on his badge, he’s on stage. “As soon as I get out of the car, I have a smile on my face,” he says. “When I smile, people smile back. And if I can help just one patient, I have done my job.”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at Sharp HealthCare.

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