Listening to a favorite song can elicit strong emotions, transporting a listener to another time and place. For the patients at St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical Center, music is healing.
Cyndi Bickel is a 1998 graduate of the International Harp Therapy Program in San Diego, California. In 2000, she completed the Hillsdale, New York-based Music for Healing and Transition Program at one of its locations in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Tickling her harp’s strings as a music practitioner for St. Mary’s Healing Arts Program since 1998, she is known as “the harp lady” around the hospital. She currently performs two days a week for those experiencing progressive illnesses in the Palliative Care Program.
Jan Herron, a staff nurse in the Palliative Care Program, says Bickel’s music helps lower patients’ blood pressure, decrease pain, change their attitudes, and relax them and their families. In one instance, a man was coughing uncontrollably but did not cough once during Bickel’s melody.
“Sometimes, patients feel totally out of control,” says Herron. “Cyndi just comes in and that sense of stress decreases. Let her play for five to 10 minutes and it puts a whole different air in the atmosphere.”
“It’s so important for us to connect,” adds Bickel. “The music goes from the ears to the heart and then spreads to the people in the room. It’s healing for the family. You can play something, and that piece breaks down a barrier. It pulls families closer together.”
Bickel plays many different genres and styles of music, some of them original, and can play written pieces or improvise. She often listens to a patient’s rate of breathing and then matches the music to the beat.
Herron says staff members are affected by the music as well. It calms them like it does the patients and creates a caring atmosphere at the hospital.
“It speaks volumes for St. Mary’s that they support this,” says Herron. “It creates a peaceful place for patients and visitors. It’s complementing the healing process.”
“It’s giving to others,” adds Bickel. “It’s like a wheel. I’m giving you my music and you’re giving me your heart. For a few minutes, we know each other.”
The tunes can spark memories and many times, Herron and Bickel will see the emotion on a patient’s face. For one moment, nothing else matters.
“Together with our minds and our gifts, we are able to find something to touch the patients,” says Bickel. “We’re making a memory that lasts. It all comes down to feelings. If it touches their heart, they’ll remember it forever.”
For more information about St. Mary’s Healing Arts Program, call 812-485-4882 or visit stmarys.org/music.