Monday, October 16, 2006

A harp in the hospital

As much as I love classical music, I’ve never really appreciated the harp. Give me the violin with its impassioned cry, the piano with its majestic voice, the cello with its silky song, the oboe with its saccharine sweetness, but the harp? I know it’s the instrument of angels, but it reminds me more of the harpsichord, that plucky and clumsy instrument people used to play before they invented the piano.

A harp in the hospital, though, is an entirely different matter. Imagine yourself standing there on rounds, concentrating on the patient presentation but also thinking about getting to morning report on time, about rushing off to clinic, about the dozens of discharge summaries that are building up, and then from out of nowhere you hear these soft, beautiful, arpeggiated chords, each pluck of string producing a perfectly round bead of music that courses through your body and just dissipates any and all stress. A run of six notes, then eight, then twelve, and the tension that you didn’t even realize you were carrying magically resolves; it effortlessly dissolves. You look around for the source of this miracle, and there she is, a pepper-haired, gentle-faced, middle-aged woman, ever so slowly making her way down the corridor, spreading her music by letting it float out in concentric circles from her golden harp. Your heart cries out, “Linger! Stay near us just a minute more! For although we are not patients here, we also need your healing!” And she does, for a second, but then she continues on, as there are more who need the gift of her song. Back to rounds—actually, the patient presentation never stopped, but now it is somehow more bearable, a bit more important even? I wonder, does she think because we are doctors that we don’t believe in the healing power of her music?