Saturday, March 27, 2010

That Little Therapeutic Piano

Marty has been a musician for as long as I have known her. At one time or another she developed a reasonable level of proficiency playing the baritone, the French horn, the guitar, banjo and piano. She loved playing the piano, took lessons in her youth and became quite accomplished. She also enjoyed singing. Over the years she sang with several choirs and she particularly relished singing alto with her small group chorus, The Common Souls, from our church.

One of our first major furniture purchases was a piano, a dark cherry Wurlitzer up-right that still has a place of honor in our living room. I remember Marty’s Father helping us with the down payment and negotiating with the salesman. He got him to throw in the sales tax. Marty played the piano for hours on end and I would often sit with her and sing while she played. I can't really carry a tune in a bucket but I can sing loud. Loud can be good, right?

After Marty’s first stroke she didn’t play much, she found it very hard to concentrate on the music and her right hand was still weak from the left sided stroke. After she had the 2nd stroke, music seemed like something that would be lost forever.

There are places where you go after a stroke, after the hospital, called sub acute care units. These are kind of half way houses after you no longer need a hospital but still need skilled nursing and therapy. We went to St. Catherine’s. Physical, occupational and speech therapy become the daily regimen for any recovering stroke patient. It’s an incredibly important part of a very long recovery process.

Marty would go to therapy three times a day. She was weak, confused and had very little stamina, but she went and she tried and we learned. It was incredibly hard to watch as she struggled with the simplest things, as she often struggled just to keep her head up and stay awake and aware.

Therapists are a wonderful lot and they see and work with people that are completely broken and trying to heal. Theirs is a very difficult job trying to get people to move beyond their current circumstances and make daily progress. Sometimes, I think, I saw, after about two weeks and no significant progress everyone gets a bit discouraged and everyone is a bit inclined to lose a certain amount of hope. We got there; I saw that, I know the therapists got there.

Then one Saturday afternoon we found some hope. Our daughter Erin and our son Matt were so faithful and good to come see their Mom virtually every weekend and we needed help on the weekends. The days without therapy were incredibly long and both Marty and I needed the diversion.

That Saturday afternoon Erin took her Mom out of her room and to the central lounge. In the lounge were the requisite couches, overstuffed chairs, a large aquarium, a couple of tables and most importantly a very old upright piano someone had donated. Erin pushed her Mom in her wheelchair and sat her in front of the piano and opened up an old, generic hymnbook.

Marty’s left hand, left leg and parts of her left brain had been essentially rendered useless by this most recent stroke. But, somewhere in the recesses of that broken brain she recognized the notes on the page of the old hymnal, raised her good right arm, put her good right foot on the pedal and slowly, haltingly started to play. It was slow, broken with missed sharps and flats at first, but slowly, surely the music began to smooth out and the right notes and chords started to kind of lift out of that old piano.

I watched Marty and Erin sitting at that piano and started to let myself feel just a little bit of hope as Erin turned the page and Marty began another hymn. A couple of the nurses saw Marty playing and came over to see if it was really her playing and not her daughter. Each one touched her back and mouthed the words, “Amazing”, as Marty continued to process the notes from the page to the keys on the piano, as Marty started her own process of healing.

It was one of those moments I keep in my heart and my mind. When the therapists heard our story of the piano, we all attacked therapy with a renewed sense of effort and hope.

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