Song Produces a Big “Thumbs Up”

Today at the hospital…

            My list of suggested children to visit was longer than normal, which is a good thing. Even better, at almost every stop a child was eager to receive a song. By the time I had completed my rounds, I had sung for more than twenty children and was treated to a range of wonderful responses to the music. Their positive reactions reminded me how beneficial the gift of music can be for these precious little ones and their families.

            After I had completed what I thought would be my last visit of the day, I was invited to provide an unexpected encore. As I stood in the elevator foyer waiting for my ride downstairs, a woman passed by in the adjacent hallway and noticed my guitar. “Can you come play a song for my son?” she asked. “He loves music.”

            “Sure,” I said. “Where is he?”

            “Follow me.” As we headed toward his room I asked her about her son. She shared that he was thirteen years old, in a great deal of pain, but would certainly love to hear a song. When we entered his room, the boy took one look at me, turned his head toward his mother and demanded, “What is he doing here?”

            “I’m here to provide you a song,” I replied when he looked back my way.

            He glanced back at his mother, who reminded him how much he liked music, but he lowered his voice and protested, “He’s still here!” She quietly scolded him for his impoliteness to a stranger, but I sensed her comments would not be enough to overcome this adolescent boy’s resistance. So when he turned again my way I looked him directly in the eye and said, “I am happy to play a song for you. I just need to know if you really want one or not. I’m good either way.” That was more direct than my typical way of addressing a reluctant patient, but after spending more than two hours on my feet I needed to break through the current parent-child impasse that left me standing in “pause” mode at the foot of his bed. After taking a few moments to consider my statement, the boy nodded his head in modest acceptance of a song.

            Not allowing him any time to reconsider, I immediately launched into One Day at a Time, a peppy song of encouragement I have found typically works well with older children. I was only a couple of lines into the song when the boy looked back at his mother. A smile crossed his face as he thrust his arm high in the air and offered a big “thumbs up.” He moved in rhythm with the tune and became more engaged with each verse, repeating his “thumbs up” sign four or five more times as a ratification that my musical selection was working for him.

            When the song was over, the child exuded abundant positive energy. “Are you on YouTube?” he asked. “You should be. I know how to post things on it so you let me know if I can help you.”

            I thanked him for his offer but told him that would not be necessary because I preferred bringing the live music to the hospital instead. As I turned to leave, I reminded him of the central message of the song: “Now, you take things one day at a time, OK?” He smiled and gave me a final, triumphal parting “thumbs up.” I responded in kind.

            I view the songs I provide as small acts of caring packaged in the universal language of music. Today, one of these “musical hugs” was able to overcome the resistance of an adolescent child convinced he would not like a song. I have been providing music in children’s hospitals for more than ten years now, and while the power of music no longer surprises me, it continues to amaze and impress.