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Good health follows high note

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Posted: Thursday, November 11, 2010 10:02 am

Chaplain Stephen Prusinski says music often picks up where words fail.

Whether recovering from injury or fighting a debilitating disease, tight-quartered hospital rooms can often create stress, anxiety, boredom or depression for patients as they attempt to regain a clean bill of health.

Besides visits from friends and family, Banner Thunderbird Medical Center officials hope a new offering can help patients feel better in their time of need — live musical performances at their bedsides.

Prusinski travels the Banner Thunderbird campus throughout the day with his piano, or “portable office,” stopping in rooms for 20 to 30 minutes to give patients a spiritual uplifting when they need comfort the most.

“Most staff, patients and families say they feel much better after sharing in an inspirational and fun musical experience,” said Prusinski, an accomplished musician who has been playing piano since he was child. “Now we have the opportunity to bring this soothing experience right to them at their bedside.”

The hospital’s maintenance department recently built Prusinski a custom rolling cabinet that houses a portable electronic keyboard, which can be easily moved through halls and up and down elevators to reach patient rooms.

Together with the chaplain’s soothing voice, the keyboard plays piano, organ and string music sounds, offering patients a great escape from the rigors of recovery during their hospital stay.

“It’s difficult for some people to feel good because of their situations,” Prusinski said. “People in darkness want to be shown that light.”

Prusinski introduces himself and tells patients to relax and be at ease when he enters their room for a live musical performance. He typically starts off playing uplifting, often spiritual, music and then attempts to engage them in conversation to see what styles of music will create a moment or experience to help them heal.

Because many patients are older, music from the 1930s and 1940s and before brings back memories for those who gathered with family in living rooms to listen to programs aired during a more simple time and generation.

“Their attachment to music is powerful,” Prusinski said of patient’s connection to songs of yesteryear that often brings back smiles and tears. “People were suffering as a nation back then and music meant so much.”

Banner Thunderbird patient Judith Hill was visited Friday by Prusinski after she finished her lunch. Hill sat back in a recliner, often smiling, nodding her head and even shedding a few tears to familiar tunes like “Amazing Grace,” “Somewhere My Love,” “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Thoughts of family, her childhood in New Orleans and peace and tranquility were shared by Hill as Prusinski often ended songs with questions about what certain songs meant or provided her during the performance.

“It makes me feel good,” said the quiet Hill, who was provided drumsticks and told to keep to the beat of “Keep on the Sunny Side” while Prusinski played keyboard.

His musical spiritual care visits can be requested through patient’s nurses Tuesday through Friday.

Greg Olson, Banner Thunderbird spiritual care director, said patients are taking advantage of the new musical ministry as even a 30-minute visit can be a great escape and diversion from reality.

“Music is one tool the spiritual care department can offer, and it is known to provide a bridge of healing where words fall short,” Olson said. “Research has shown that music ministry soothes pain, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and relaxes stressful emotions.”

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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