As a music therapy student, I think I have been able to conduct myself with relative professionalism, in spite of the many many unpredictable things clients can do or say.
This week, for once, I lost it. When I say I lost it, I don’t mean I lost my temper, banged or overturned any tables, or even started yelling at anyone. When I say I lost it, I mean: I got the Giggles.
“Mary” is one of the residents at the nursing home. She doesn’t have dementia and remembers us well. However, we had been warned that she wants attention and will do all sorts of things to get it, including using guilt and reverse psychology. This week, she walked past us and asked very sweetly: “Girls, can I have music therapy please?” We of course agreed and told her we’d go to her room later.
When we arrived in her room, she told us to “start” and just “carry on”. As she joined us in singing, she was also very busy taking out plastic bags from her drawer, finding a comfortable position on her bed, before deciding that she didn’t want to lie down after all, got up, and decided that she had to curl her hair. In between all that, she also managed to slip in a rather awkward piece of information from her gynecologist and explained to us why she had to do something in a certain way. *Awkward silence filled in by music*
Up to this point, I had still managed to hold it together, and was in fact quite impressed by this strong-willed lady who seemed to be really positive and cheerful about life.
Then Mary took out her curling pins from her drawer, and told us: “I’ll be back in a minute, girls.” And proceeded to go to the toilet to comb her hair. As soon as she left the room, the Coursemate looked at me immediately and hissed: “This is the weirdest session ever”. That started me off a little bit. Before Mary came back, we quickly decided that it was best to end the session soon since she seemed to be more interested in curling her hair than in having a serious session.
Mary came back, and started standing in front of her mirror, slowly putting the curling pins in her hair, all the while chatting with us about how her singing voice has changed and how she didn’t like it anymore, etc. The Coursemate then very gently said that we had to leave soon to see other residents, and that we’d sing her a Goodbye song before we left. Mary couldn’t argue with that, and seemed to reluctantly accept the fact that we couldn’t stay to watch her curl her hair.
As we started “Thank You For The Music”, Mary’s hands went back to her hair and curling pins. What was meant to be a conclusion, validation and affirmation of a session of social togetherness and present-ness, became a soundtrack for hair curling. The absurdity of the scene was too much for me to take, and the moment that thought: “soundtrack for hair curling” entered my head, that was the moment I lost it.
I giggled so much I couldn’t sing anymore, and the poor Coursemate later said it took all of her self-control to not look at me and keep the song going. And of course, Mary was oblivious to it all, her attention focused on her reflection and how nicely her hair was being curled.
During lunch, in between our bouts of giggling, we messaged a course senior who came into the nursing home on another day as an employed MT. The “weirdest session ever” was described, and advice asked. The gist of his reply was:
“Hi guys, I think it’s safe to say that Mary can be a little odd. She was labeling her clothes when I worked with her. However she enjoys old classics and having discussions about them after singing.
PS: She might want to talk about her “personal” medical issues as well. Just keep the music going and she’ll get the hint that you don’t really want to know about it.”
That just set us off on another serious bout of giggles, so much that we had to take extra time after lunch to calm ourselves down, to go back to “Professional MT mode” before stepping back into the building.
Additional skill to work on: Giggle Control.