Sharp hospitals were busy before the COVID-19 pandemic began. These days, nurses are working long hours and caring for sicker patients, all under the threat of falling ill themselves.
Amy Andrews, coordinator of Sharp’s Arts for Healing program and a board-certified music therapist, understands the stress these employees are under. With her voice and guitar, Amy fills the floors of Sharp Memorial Hospital and Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns with themes of empowerment, hope, resilience and togetherness.
“Amy’s performance was a breath of fresh air and helped lift my spirits during these unknown times,” says Carmen Kirkpatrick, a nurse in the Trauma and Neuro Progressive Care Unit at Sharp Memorial. “The supportive music experience the Arts for Healing program provides the staff is a great reminder that what we’re all doing is making a difference.”
Providing supportive music experiences for employees is just one way that Amy’s job as a Sharp music therapist has changed in response to the pandemic. With visitation by friends and family limited, music therapists at Sharp are finding new ways to bring therapeutic music to their patients and their loved ones — all while wearing a mask.
Before the pandemic, bedside music therapy sessions would often involve family and friends who were in the room visiting. Now, music therapists at Sharp encourage patients to call or video chat with loved ones during sessions.
“Twice, I improvised with a patient’s husband over the phone — he played the flute and I played the guitar — incorporating melodies requested by his wife,” Amy says. She also helped a patient record a video of himself singing to send to his mother and girlfriend.
For patients with limited ability to communicate due to their condition, Sharp music therapists reach out to their primary contact in advance to ask about their loved one’s music preference. “The response by the families has been incredibly positive, and some have been moved to tears knowing their loved one will receive music therapy,” Amy says.
Research shows that music can be a powerful healing tool — decreasing anxiety and pain perception, and improving vital signs, mood and sleep for hospitalized patients. Sharp music therapists work with nursing staff to play their patients’ favorite music through the room’s television.
“I support patients in recalling music that is meaningful and guiding them to be able to control their own music medicine,” she says. “Research shows that the music we enjoy most is the most beneficial for our comfort.”
‘I hear beautiful music’
Sharp music therapists also use music to help patients overcome emotional roadblocks in their recovery.
Amy recently met with a patient who was having difficulty coping with an extended hospitalization. At the start of the visit, the patient shared that she was worried about her health, family and finances, and didn’t know how much longer she could go on. In response to what the patient shared, Amy chose to play the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac.
“The patient closed her eyes, became tearful, and sang along softly, pointing to the sky as she sang, ‘I built my life around you,’” says Amy. “I began threading themes of spiritual support into the songs that followed. The patient sang and prayed aloud and even called her sister to share a song with her. The patient told her sister, ‘I want you to know that I’m getting help. I’m hearing beautiful music.’”