Pablo is a 22 year old chronic patient who has been in and out of hospitals many times since 2014, when he fell 25′ from an elevated deck. His fall left him paralyzed below the waste and with permanent brain damage. While Pablo is able to hear and process information, he can only utter a few words in broken phrases and often becomes depressed and exhibits anger and agitation.
At the start of my shift at a local hospital, I was referred to Pablo in hopes that music might help him relax. In speaking with his nurse, I learned that Pablo had grabbed a physical therapist during a morning therapy session and bitten her on the arm. Pablo was not due to receive more sedation medicine for two more hours and his nurse was desperate to know if there was anything I might do to help calm him. All I could think was, “Lord, help me”. I told the nurse I would try and whispered a prayer as I entered his room.
Pablo looked up with incredibly sad and hopeless eyes as I introduced myself. Trying to conceal my own sadness, I began thinking through my repertoire for a song that Pablo might relate to and which I could play in the appropriate tempo for his condition. Suddenly, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” came to mind and I began playing the familiar descending and ascending notes of the introduction. Pablo immediately recognized the piece and fixed his eyes on my guitar. His nurse had told me that he had been quite agitated before my arrival, but now – he sat motionless and seemed mesmerized by the music. Suddenly, he brought his hands together, touching only his fingertips. Clapping back and forth, but not letting his palms touch, he uttered, “Bravo, Bravo!”
His nurse and sitter looked at each other in amazement. Pablo began to display a very peaceful countenance as he settled back into his bed. I transitioned to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as Pablo closed his eyes and lay still. Once again, his fingertips touched and he repeated, “Bravo, Bravo!” As Pablo rested with eyes closed, I played through a few more pieces of music.
Then Pablo raised his hand and said, “Stop this.” (I later learned that Pablo uses this phrase when he has had enough of an activity). Then Pablo did a most unexpected thing – he reached toward me as if he wanted me to take his hand. For a moment, I froze and thought about what had happened earlier that morning. But somehow, I sensed that Pablo was wanting to connect with me in more than the physical sense. Before I knew it, I was holding his hand in mine. The eyes that had been so sad and hopeless were now full of life and appreciation. Pablo was able to stammer, “Thank You” as we continued holding hands.
After thanking Pablo for the privilege of playing for him, I wished him well, excused myself and left his room. His nurse followed me out into the hallway where she shared that she had never seen Pablo respond to anything like he responded to the music.
I remember thinking when I first met Pablo, I did not want to carry the memory of his sad eyes. Now when I think back on my encounter with Pablo, I can only see happy eyes dancing with delight. I am a blessed man!
*Names have been changed to protect identities and comply with HIPAA Guidelines