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  • Writer's pictureKat Eaton

It's a need, not a want

Musicians: Kat Eaton (vocals) Marcus Bonfanti (guitar, vocals)

Guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and I met Kat Whitehead of The Spitz in the cafe of Northwick Park Hospital at 11:30 and caught up on our Christmas and New Year shinanigans over a coffee. Having just become a home-owner I ushered the conversation on to furniture and soft furnishings. As I was about to bore Kat and Marcus to death about my hatred for futons, activity co-ordinator Amber Scotting arrived to save them. Amber said that we would be welcome to perform in the stroke ward today so we travelled up to the 8th floor a little apprehensive about what we would encounter, it being our first time there.

Once we’d dropped off our coats and bags in the warm and inviting day room we prepared ourselves for the first bay. I find that it helps if I take a few deep breaths and have a quiet moment to myself to compose myself before we start. We all know that hospitals can be challenging places and the last thing I want to do is project any of my fears or anxieties onto the patients. We are here to provide an experience that frees people from concern. When Marcus and I spoke about it retrospectively we agreed that as performers we do this naturally on stage. But in this setting (when we are without a stage and not able to hide behind our instruments or mic stands) we are more vulnerable and susceptible to feelings of doubt and inadequacy.

The first bay we entered was calm and quiet and so we played a couple of Beatles songs to the room. Then, sensing that he would be welcome, Marcus approached a particularly engaged patient, who then expressed his love for country music. So Marcus sang a beautiful country song directly to him. It was so nice to just observe their interaction while I shook my little egg shakers. I could tell that the patient was moved by this personal touch. When Amber indicated that we should move on, the patient said, “I really appreciated that – that was lovely”.

In Bay C we encountered ‘The Rocking Ladies”! I’m not sure whether we affectionately named them as such or whether the ward staff had, but regardless they lived up to their reputation. Rock n Roll was the order of the day and so we were only too happy to play Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny Be Goode’, which went down a storm and had the nurses dancing and singing along. After a tidy guitar lick on the turn-around from Marcus finishing satisfyingly on beat one, I suggested a song by Elvis. One of the patient’s eyes widened as she pursed her lips in excitement while another patient in the corner exclaimed “Yes!” and proceeded to join us on percussion using a tea spoon to hit her tea cup and tupperware. When we’d finished she blew me a kiss and I blew one back.

In our break back in the day room Amber told us that that the two-week study we were part of on Hardy Ward back in September was going to be repeated in the stroke ward. And even better, it is going to be conducted by several physiologists who will be able to collected more extensive forms of data. This data will hopefully show the positive impact that music therapy has on the patients here and therefore enable us to visit more frequently. Amber, who has just accepted a job at another hospital, has been integral to our work at Northwick Park Hospital. From day one she encouraged and welcomed us, opening doors that would otherwise stay shut. This is yet another example of her going out of her way to help us bring music therapy to her patients. We are all really going to miss her.

In the last bay we visited we met a woman who was in recovery and would soon be discharged. When we asked what she’d like to hear she asked for Andrea Bocelli. I would have attempted a little Nessun Dorma but we had no idea what the chords would be on guitar so we asked her if a Joni Mitchell would suffice and she said it would. To our surprise she started to cry while we were playing ‘A Case Of You’. Once we’d finished she said, “I’m sorry I’m crying but they’re tears of joy”. This release enabled her to invite us in as she opened up to us about her life, her grandson and granddaughter who suffered with autism and her appreciation for the incredible staff at the hospital. All the while Amber stood next to her in solidarity while she spoke and cried, comforting her with positive affirmations. We discovered that she was a fiercely independent woman who did everything for herself but when she got sick she had to surrender herself over to the doctors and nurses at Northwick Park. She told us that when she spoke to the doctor that morning she said to him “thank-you for making me better” and cried once more, which made Marcus and I both well up. Here was an independent, strong woman who had temporarily relinquished control for this short moment and you could see the sense of relief it gave her and how she was truly grateful for the care and support she had received.

When we spoke to one of the nurses about the affects of the music on the patients we had seen today, she poignantly said “it is a need, and not a want”. There’s no better way to put it.

Before we arrived on the stroke ward I was a little apprehensive. But leaving the hospital I felt calm, content and grateful. Nourished and inspired by the patients gratitude for the care-workers and apparent lust for life during a time of vulnerability.

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