Desert Hope 6.7x4.784 with sig.jpg
 

Client Stories

(Told by Joseph Sengco)

                                                                                                     Did you Smile Today?


  One of my patients when I was a geriatric counselor at the New Jersey hospital, Trudy, was about to turn one hundred years old, and had short-term memory deficits. Trudy checked into the hospital--for the first time in her life--because of her weakened physical state. She sat in the recreation room, looking grumpy. When I asked her how she felt, she said “I am so old and I cannot work.” I asked her, “Do you want a job?” She nodded yes. “Okay, your job is to smile,” I said. Half an hour later, when I was free to check with her again, I asked if she remembered me. Though she did not, she still had a smile on her face.

                                                                                                      The Power of Music

     One time, an unresponsive elderly lady who had been in a coma for two months was transferred into my geriatric unit. Dorothy’s doctors were concerned that she was not able to get enough nutrition so they were deliberating whether to insert a feeding tube directly into her stomach. I was curious to find out what would happen if I played live music for her. I asked the staff to transfer her from the hospital bed, where she spent most of her time, into a geriatric wheelchair so we could roll her into the activity room, which had a piano. Based on her age, I chose to play songs popular from the 1930’s on the piano. When I began to play “Some Enchanted Evening,” I thought I heard Dorothy humming, but it was so quiet that I wondered if it was my imagination. I asked my co-worker, Liz, who confirmed that she was actually humming along. “I heard her.” Said Liz. She continued to hum along, though barely audible, for the next three songs I played. The next day, I was amazed to see that Dorothy was independently socializing and eating as if she hadn’t been in a coma. It was as if a light had turned on, and she was bright and cheery in whatever she did. Soon afterwards, I asked her about music. She said that she loved music and that when she was young, she sang all the time. I then asked her if she liked the song “Some Enchanted Evening.” “Yes!” he said. “It is my favorite!”

                                                                                                      Listen to Your Rhythm

    

     When I worked as a geriatic counselor, a gentle, soft-spoken Black man diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, named Darrell, came into my unit for a couple weeks. Day and night, Darrell was unable to sit still for even a couple minutes without getting up to pace in a restless shuffle. At this stage of Parkinson's disease, some patients have an uncontrollable urge to continually walk or shuffle. His tests and appointments posed many challenges. At the time, many doctors over-medicated people in this Parkinson’s stage. But our attending psychiatrist was mindful of managing his medication, especially the barbiturates. 

      I had an intuition that rather than pull him into a music group, I should observe him. As a staff, we preferred to motivate—rather than force—patients into activities. During my group music activities, whenever I noticed Darrell pacing in the hall past the room, I tried a few things: piano, and karaoke, but what seemed to interest him most was the hand drums or doumbeks. When I noticed him walking by, I would sneakily tune to his walking rhythm by matching our group’s drumming to the pace of his gait. Each day he passed by, he paused to look in a little longer, until after five days, he finally stepped in the doorway to watch. I invited him to sit down and placed a doumbek drum between his legs. I held his shakier hand as it hovered atop the drum head. Then, in under a minute, his random beating as his shaky hands hit the drums transformed into a steady pulse that matched the group’s rhythm. To everyone’s surprise, he sat drumming for over half an hour, despite his usual inability to sit still for even a couple minutes. Several days later, I happened to be present when he was being discharged.  During the goodbyes with the charge nurse and I, Darrell began to cry, and the charge nurse asked him why. Darrell replied, “This is the first place I have felt respected since I can’t remember when.”  In awe I relished hearing Darrell speak a full sentence for the first time.  

Stories like this happen everyday, as if angels are watching over us.