Healing Paediatric patients using music
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell
Cancer is still the main cause of death in children above one year who die of a disease. However, progress in understanding and treating childhood malignancies is one of the success stories in paediatrics. The current treatment of leukaemia is intense, primitive, barbaric, and often effective (Lie 2001). This progress has its price: the long-lasting treatment usually produces a number of unpleasant, and partly dangerous side-effects. These factors, plus the inevitable periods of isolation and hospitalisation influence many aspects related to the young patients' health, such as 'social relationships', 'self-concepts' and 'joys’ (von Plessen 1995). Although the patient is at the centre of attention and her/his relatives are placed at the collateral line, 'the illness' also dominates their lives.
A paediatric oncology ward is characterised by the advanced technology and bustle of a university hospital where curative treatment takes first priority. Some of the most common stressors for hospitalised children are related to their experiences of the hospital environment, separation from parents during medical procedures, the need to interact with strangers, and separation from peer group and siblings in routine daily events (Melamed 1992, p.I42).
Becoming a paediatric patient means temporarily or more permanently diminishing one's social networks related to family, school, friends, etc. To various degrees a seriously ill person always becomes stripped of her or his personal attributes and strength and assumes the role of the homo patiens. Patients (usually accompanied by their parents) suddenly find themselves drawn into new formal or informal networks where their position is reduced to mainly being a receiver of treatment and care.
Community Music Therapy strives to give these patients a voice and bring people together to perform and enjoy music, not as an alternative to the medical treatment, but as a natural agent of health promotion.
The participants are first of all the patients: some in wheelchairs, some in beds, many with infusion pumps. But also relatives, students (of various kinds) and people working in the hospital - altogether 20 or 30 persons - may be present. Sometimes a dozen (young and old) start the event by marching (or rolling) through the corridors playing and singing. In front walks the music therapist in top hat, blowing his trombone or recorder. As a rule, more and more participants join the line of musicians as the procession slowly proceeds from the 8th to the 4th floor of the paediatric department.
It is important to have time enough also to 'catch' those who react to this unfamiliar event with timidity or apprehension. Bystanders have associated the processions in the paediatric department with the tale of the Pied Piper from Hamelyn (Stai 1999). Like the original Pied Piper, this man's tools are nothing but music .But he only takes, for some minutes, those children and adults who want to follow him, to an easily forgotten world within the hospital community. This world is, however, also a real one - but dominated by play, fantasy and pleasurable social interactions.
Here, the music therapist strives at treating everyone as a fellow musician, hopefully challenging the individual just so much that the suggested tasks are within her/his capabilities. For some minutes patients are not primarily patients, participating professional staff are not primarily professionals. We will all soon enough be back in the old 'reality'. During 'the musical hour' people come and go all the time, some because of other business, diagnostic/therapeutic appointments, fatigue/uncomfortable symptoms, or simply because of, lack of interest.
What seems to be important is that the described processions and musical encounters are regular features in the hospital community; these inclusive rituals shall remind the world that music man is alive and present.