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Good Medicine

April 22, 2013

musichospitalroomBy Marcy Phipps, RN, a regular writer for this blog. Her essay, “The Love Song of Frank,” was published in the May (2012) issue of AJN.

Last week I saw something extraordinary.

I watched the music of Amy Winehouse soothe a patient who was recovering from a traumatic brain injury while suffering withdrawal symptoms from certain street drugs. He’d been irritable and restless all day, fidgeting and climbing out of bed, unable to rest and miserable in his persistent unease. He wasn’t interested in television, was too agitated to read, and the Celtic flute music supplied on the hospital relaxation station was useless to him as a diversion.

But when another nurse and I pulled an old stereo from behind the nurses’ station and played Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” at his bedside, his demeanor changed as suddenly as if we’d flipped a light switch. He leaned back into his pillow, sighed, and said, “That’s nice.”

For the next hour he barely moved.

Those familiar with Amy Winehouse’s music will know how completely at odds her vibe is with the atmosphere in a hospital—and perhaps that’s why her music mesmerized my patient, relieving his intractable agitation more effectively than any medication.

I often forget about complementary therapies—like music therapy—in the ICU. Prescribed medications are almost always the first intervention for pain and agitation, and yet complementary therapies are sometimes hugely effective adjuncts and easy to provide. I’ve seen fury stopped cold by the slow drawing of a wide-toothed comb through someone’s hair, seen someone instantly relax when provided pictures of a beloved pet, and have witnessed music provide relief more than once.

Small measures, perhaps, but sometimes little things matter a lot, and good medicine doesn’t always come from a vial.

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5 comments

  1. We sometimes forget the other side of nursing when it comes to using complimentary therapy. We tend to go with science and modern technology to help solve and alleviate problems, but not all things, sometimes can be fixed just with medication treatments. Many positive results have come out of complimentary therapy, such as in this article above. Music helped patient Frank, ease up and relate with the situation he was in. The use of therapeutic music has resulted in bringing a more positive state of mind and optimism levels higher, and helping in reduce anxiety and depression. Music has also been found to bring many other benefits, such as lowering blood pressure (which can also reduce the risk of stroke and other health problems over time), boost immunity, ease muscle tension, and more.

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  2. I had a similar experience from a TBI. All I could do at the time was listen to Luciano Pavarotti, and just rest. I couldn’t walk, talk, read, or comprend TV or the dishes in the sink, or tell time. Eventually these skills all came back, thankfully.

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  3. Very moving post…the thing is IMO complementary medicine has a long way in being implemented in a clinical setting… no matter if it’s sound, aromatherapy, massage, etc

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  4. I can only imagine what it might be like, confined to an ICU bed, unable to control the sounds assaulting your ears. Interesting that “calming” Celtic flutes had the opposite effect on this patient’s psyche; he must have felt like he was stuck in an elevator listening to Muzak! Great job finding music he could relate to, and find peace with. It’s not easy to find those sort of personal touches in the technological castle of an ICU.

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  5. That is so awesome. I had a similar experience in ICU changing a dressing on a patient with an open chest after a CABG. It had gotten infected. It was traumatic for both of us so I used visualization for her and also sang a short hymnal that I remembered from school. It worked to relax and settle both of us.
    My hospital has just created an order set called “Integrative Therapy.” It includes choices like aromatherapy, massage and Reiki. I am amazed!!

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