Barbara Speidel sat on her hospital bed in a tied-back gown peering up through her glasses with light blue eyes as she talked about an unexpected blessing she recently experienced.
The 70-year-old has been staying at Medical Center Hospital to receive palliative care, but ended up getting so much more than she expected. Palliative care is similar to hospice, but specialized for people with serious illness or a chronic condition such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease or dementia that focuses on symptom management for as long as an illness lasts.
What surprised Speidel was during her hospital stay, she received a visit she says touched every fiber of her being. Dr. Albino Gelara, advanced nurse practitioner in palliative care, and Faith Bernabe, performance improvement specialist at MCH have been playing music and singing to palliative care patients every Friday for about a year.
“All that I can say is that it touched me all the way to my core. It really touched me and God bless them for having this type of ministry here in a hospital. Where could it be more needed and more necessary, more wanted, than in a hospital?” Speidel said.
Gelara and Bernabe started the music ministry on Jan. 9, 2017. Their first recipient was actually a patient that was in hospice. The woman was receiving hospice care at her home and was doing a wedding vow renewal and they decided to make music part of the package. After that, it stuck.
“He called me and said, ‘Hey Faith, are you willing to sing for a patient if I have a patient that is really, really down and needs to be lifted up?’ And I said, ‘yes, I’d be happy to do that,’” Bernabe said.
The experience to Bernabe is priceless and very rewarding.
“What keeps me going back is to be able to know that by doing this, by singing for the patient, it will help them ease the pain and bring joy to their heart every time they hear the music,” she said.
Bernabe said many of the patients will start crying when they play, but the tears are tears of joy.
Speidel can attest to that. She said she cried because it meant so much to her and her husband.
“I was born in Kermit and I went to church around here all my life and there’s just nothing like it. Sometimes people leave the church for one reason or another, but when you start bringing that music back in that has special meaning, it renews all those feelings and the blessings that you’ve received (over) all the years,” Speidel said.
Gelara said there is evidence that music plays an important role while a patient is in the hospital.
“Let me remind you though, we are not music therapists in the sense that we don’t have a degree in music therapy. We do it from the goodness and the kindness of our hearts to bring something different aside from the medical aspect of care, meaning antibiotics and things like, you know, breathing treatments and things like that,” he said.
“Music plays a different role when patients are sick. It gives them inspiration. It gives them hope. It allows them to express their feelings, per say.”
Bernabe said she sometimes sings songs that she wrote when she was 14 years old. She tells patients the story behind the song and said they often get excited about it. Some of the songs are on the inspirational side or are praise and worship songs. Songs like “Amazing Grace,” or “How Great Thou Art.”
Speidel said whether you’re religious or not, it is still beautiful music and a beautiful experience.
“It’s not hell and high water, it’s absolutely beautiful. You see people in their 70s, 80s, different ages. That’s when something is right. When you have a lot of different ages together and they all feel the same thing in their heart. That is a true blessing,” she said.
The two specifically dedicate their Fridays to doing music ministry, but they also do it on an “as needed” basis, Gelara said. If they see a patient that is feeling down, they’ll pop into their room and play, or sometimes they will even sing for the nurses, just to brighten up their day.
“Even when we are just practicing here and somebody would hear us, they would hear Faith outside and they would come in and say, hey, could you come sing to my mom? And we would go there,” Gelara said.
All of the patients they have sung for are dear to them, Bernabe said.
“Before we go into a patient’s room I sincerely thing about, OK, I’m gonna do this just to help this patient, you know. And so I think almost all of them are memorable to me and it’s an honor to do this (for) our patients because I know they needed it and it helps,” she said.
The music ministry is purely voluntary and Gelara and Bernabe have had a group of men come and sing a few times for patients, as well. Gelara said he hopes the program expands and other volunteers come in to play music and sing.
Those who are interested can call Dr. Gelara at the Palliative Care office at 432-640-1511.
“I look forward, and I hope other people look forward to a song ministry,” Speidel said. “I wouldn’t take anything for it, I’ll never forget it. I’m 70 and to the day I die I will never forget the music ministry that came into this room. Never.”