Slice of Life

Music calms in a time of crisis

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJanuary 30, 2014 

Kathe Tanner

A recent Facebook posting postulated that music is one of the only activities that activates, stimulates and uses the entire brain. I believe it.

According to William Congreve, in his tragic 1697 play, “The Mourning Bride,” “music hath charms to soothe a savage breast” — but beauty is in the ear of the beholder/listener, so first, you have to define music.

Whatever it is, I’ve listened to a lot more of it than usual during the past month, especially as I was racking up 2,000 miles in daily treks to and from San Luis Obispo. I spent those days by the side of my husband as he began recovering from the effects of a stroke.

It’s been a long time since I commuted — and I’m so glad I don’t do that any more.

But if you do, you already know there’s nothing like music you love, played loud, to keep you going, keep you company and sooth any savage body parts.

Singing along with upbeat melodies and verses also helped me chase away roller-coastering emotions and any dark thoughts about what might lie ahead, medically and practically speaking.

I’ve also found a sure-fire way to feel ancient and antique, when I realized that the songs I was hearing on that “oldies” station were the tunes my CHILDREN listened to as they grew up! Ouch!

Fortunately, most of the music I heard in January was from my iPod, beaming its eclectic mix through the van’s sound system.

I was energized and soothed by Broadway show songs, my father’s jazz performances, fiddle music, classical and light opera, John Denver and Three Mo’ Tenors, Chicago (the movie and the group), Disney, Reba, Beach Boys, Brian Setzer, Barbra, George Stone, Julie Beaver, Red Holloway, Jimmy Buffet and hundreds of others.

But in the meantime, I’ve also discovered there are other kinds of music, if you want to call it that: medical melodies I heard during the 24/7 days I spent at the hospital, and later on those 12-hour visits at the transitional center where Husband Richard had rehabilitation and therapy.

With these “songs,” you can’t sing ’em or hum ’em, but they’re semi-musical, anyway:

• The “beep, beep” of a heart monitor, steady as a metronome when things are going well.

• The chime of a regular nurse-call bell, which reminds me of our bossy microwave oven reminding me that I put that cup of tea in to reheat — again — about a half hour ago.

• The incessant, gendarme-siren clamor of the double-tone nurse-call bell, rung when a patient needs help quickly to leave the restroom.

• The whir of rolling wheelchair wheels sliding over the tile floors.

• The percussion of walkers and canes, and the drum-brush whoosh-whoosh-swish of slippers and nonskid socks.

• The call of a patient to a nurse or aide, the hum of conversation in the next hospital room, and the discordant choral din of having too many visitors in too small a space.

As Husband Richard said, put them all together and it sounds like tune-up time for a sixth-grade drum-triangle-bugle corps.

Along with tears, cries and, yes, even laughter, all are part of the melodies of healing, the harmony of caring and music of life.

PS: We give a heartfelt “thank you” and virtual hug to all of you — from just down the street to Hawaii and Antigua — who sent messages of support and prayer during this ordeal. You sent cards and emails, made phone calls, left voice mails, stopped me at the store and did social-media postings. You sent everything but smoke signals.

Each and every one of those loving thoughts meant so much to all of us, especially Husband Richard.

By the time you read this, he should be home, and we’ll all be dealing with the next stage of his recovery. He’s doing amazingly well, according to the doctors, but he’s still a long way from being independent.

Yes, it’s hugely daunting to be that responsible for the health and welfare of an adult with impaired abilities, but we’ve been there before, and Son Brian and I will make it happen.

We’ll all travel that road together — and we’ll share lots more music along the way.

Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune. Her "Slice of Life" column appears biweekly. Follow her on Twitter @cambriareporter.

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