Story by University of Michigan Health System Gifts of Art Bedside Musician and Certified Music Practitioner Greg Maxwell about playing music with a well-known Detroit jazz trumpet player while he was receiving care in the U-M hospital. The story begins after Maxwell mentions a request coming in from a unit, and includes the physical therapist’s assessment of the patient’s oxygen levels moving up.
"The nurse spotted me as I emerged from a patient’s room. She came trotting down the hall, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back toward her unit, telling me excitedly, “You just have to play for this patient – he’s a musician.”
We meet patients every day who play music, but as we approached the room, and I saw the patient’s last name and first initial on the door, my heart jumped a beat – the patient is a legend in the jazz world who I’d seen perform numerous times at festivals and clubs around Detroit.
As I appeared in his doorway, he immediately saw the guitar in my cart and cheerily waved me in. He was sitting up in his recliner chair; his instrument was sitting on his bed next to him. He was on oxygen but was talkative and very curious about our work and the types of music that I play. I had been playing very lightly as we chatted, and soon he grabbed his instrument and motioned to me – “Play whatever you like,” he offered.
I began playing a well-known samba tune – a very easy-going tempo that I felt wouldn’t stress him. He knew the song immediately, of course, and took the lead – he settled into the key like we’d played together countless times. His playing was exquisite, and as he played his posture straightened and he grew visibly more robust.
We segued into a pop tune from the '70s, and as we finished the song his physical therapist arrived. She needed to do an assessment with him and after apologizing profusely for interrupting our session, she clipped an O2 sensor on his finger. After reading the display, she gave me a look filled with concern and asked, "How long have you guys been playing?" I responded, “About seven or eight minutes.” “Not long enough,” he added. She was shaking her head as she reread the O2 sensor and informed the patient, “Your oxygen is way up.” Immediately, a huge smile lit up his face, and he told her enthusiastically, “Making music with this young man is the best medicine I’ve had since I got here!”
The physical therapist told us that she needed to retrieve a piece of equipment for the assessment, but that she would return immediately. The patient looked at me – “Time for one more,” he grinned.
Selfishly figuring that this might be my only chance to play with him, I wanted to hear him play one of my favorites, so I led out my favorite Gershwin tune, "How Long Has This Been Going On". He played a beautiful accompaniment to my singing, and then he took the lead. Sitting in his presence, with the beauty and sensitivity of his playing washing over me, I was utterly transported. A crowd had gathered at his doorway. I was jolted back to reality as we finished, and they began applauding.
His physical therapist returned and clipped the O2 sensor on his finger again. She shook her head at the reading and looked at me, “Please come back soon and play with him again. This is the highest his O2 has been since he came in!” He turned to her and said, “I TOLD you – his music is the best medicine in this place. He better come back soon!”
I couldn’t feel my feet touching the ground as I left the scene.
I returned the following evening, and the Unit Host told me that his condition and numbers had improved so much that he had discharged a full day earlier than originally planned."