After that beautiful weekend in Byron, came Monday. And the
onslaught experience known as Placement.
This 3-week placement was really intense because of the frequency (5-day week, as opposed to once-a-week), the population group (mental health), and the nature of short-term interventions.
In my first week, I found myself thinking that I could never work in hospital environments. Too hectic, too fast paced, too many changes. Too many people coming and going. No established relationships.
But, by my second week, I began to think that maybe I could after all.
Even though patient turnover is high, we still had the chance to establish several poignant relationships with individuals. It certainly helps to be there everyday. For a person who’s staying in a locked ward for even a few days, the presence of familiar faces, coming to provide stimulation and relief from the boredom they all complain about, can be very comforting.
The interventions we used were mainly singing of familiar repertoire. For a few individuals, an ensemble-like context was created with the addition of a drum. I observed how individuals came alive when they engaged. For that moment, or duration of time, they were no longer defined by their illness, but they were a person, making music with another – being human. Song lyric discussion enabled some of them to talk about issues close to their hearts. Some spoke about the instruments and music they learnt at school. The music became a medium through which they engaged. To a certain extent, it created diversion from over-focus on their clinical condition and provided an alternate means of engagement. Other interventions carried out during our group sessions (which we were constantly stressed about!), such as drum circles, provided an outlet for social interaction and normality, something lacking in many of the patients’ lives as well.
Joining in some of the recreational activity sessions also helped us in establishing relationships with the patients outside the musical setting. These crafts will always remind me of the experience. Of the individuals who are really just human, struggling to find their way as we all are.
We must have appeared as strangers to the nurses and staff at first – suddenly turning up with guitars and walking the hallways with instruments. But gradually, we began to receive referrals.
“Could you drop by XX? He’s not very happy about being here.”
“I would like to refer MM, some diversion or distraction might help her…”
“I was going to look for you to refer __, but it looks like you found him already!” (wide grin)
The feeling was very validating and encouraging, knowing that the staff value allied health professionals and were willing to engage with us to provide the best care for the patients.
It’s true that we may only see an individual for a few sessions, but I’ve realised that we should not underestimate what those few sessions can do for an individual. Seeds may be planted, and grow into different things in future. One client said that he was inspired to learn guitar when he got out. Another said he felt that music was something meaningful he could do with his time (as opposed to chain smoking). And a few others asked for lyrics, chord sheets of songs which meant something to them.
For a few days after I finished placement, I kept thinking of some of the individuals I saw in ward. In short-term interventions, each session is usually treated as our last. Closure is of utmost importance. But… I can’t help but feel that a part of my heart has been left with them.
I can only wish them well.
Wherever life takes them, may they be well and happy.