It's Friday morning in the Cancer Center at Edward Hospital in Naperville. A retired middle school principal opens a music case, takes out and tunes his acoustic guitar and goes to work. His job: to provide the staff and patients moments of relaxation, hope, smiles and the health benefits of music.
Ed Dulaney of Wheaton has been playing at Edward Hospital as part of its healing arts program since 2006. He began performing when his wife was a patient and she found the music he played very comforting during her treatment.
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After Dulaney's wife died, he received a call to come back to the hospital to play for others. It was extremely difficult to do so.
"One of the nurses sensed how difficult this was for me and simply asked me if I would open my guitar case. She threw some change in, and so did each of the nurses on duty that day," he said.
Later, a doctor came out, and didn't say a word, but just shook Dulany's hand. Even though no words were uttered, the handshake and the change symbolized to him that he was needed.
The Edward Hospital healing arts program is under the authority of Candace Olander, and includes artwork, as well as music. The program began in 2002.
"I was to develop a fine arts program, the purpose was to give emotional care and make this hospital not feel like a hospital. I thought deeply about how to bring musicians into a health setting. We knew the musicians had to be professionals, and act professionally," Olander said.
"The program was originally designed to provide care for the caregivers, who appreciated the violin, guitar or harp music (depending upon the day). The staff has grown to know these musicians and appreciate their work on each floor. Some staff follow us as they catch up on their paperwork," Olander said.
"Music is the vocabulary of soul," Dulaney said. "Playing here does more for me than you can calculate. It gives me a sense of purpose; it replenishes me. But more than that, I hope to replenish the staff and patients who listen."
For millennia, music has brought comfort and healing into people's lives. David played his harp to bring relief to King Saul thousands of years ago, and his psalms are still read and recited today in many settings as a way to alleviate suffering, worry and fear.
"Getting better is what we are all about, and music can help the patients remember a different time, bringing them comfort and the ability to face the future somewhat fortified", Dulaney said as he strummed the music of Gordon Lightfoot, George Harrison and James Taylor.
While patients are receiving treatment to change the chemical properties in their bodies, the music is providing a way to change, chemicalize if you will, their thinking -- which studies show has a direct effect on the body.
"Music should help those who listen to reflect and anticipate. It helps them move on out of a cesspool of pity and into the ability to handle the issues they face," Dulaney explained.
A Drexel University study showed that cancer patients who listened to music found a reduction in anxiety during treatment. The university reported that music therapy may increase patients' quality of life as well as have beneficial effects on heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Music therapist Dr. Joke Brandt, who conducted the study, wrote, "Music interventions, as well as listening to prerecorded music, both have shown positive outcomes in this review."
The Edward Hospital program is different from other hospital music programs in that the musicians don't stay in the lobby, Olander said.
"The Edward musicians go from floor to floor, strolling from room to room, and often take requests. This program is designed to meet the individual patient's needs."
The musicians also include Rob Curtis, an Elgin Community College guitar instructor; Sara Vettraino, a violin instructor and owner of Belle Music; flamenco guitarist Carlo Basil, classical guitarist Julie Goldberg; and harpist Laura Fako Utley.
"We are glad to be here to let the music we play pick people up," guitarist Curtis said. Fellow guitarist, Dulaney, put it more succinctly, "Our aim is to bring wellness and healing into the lives of everyone here -- so that they may leave here better."
• Thomas (Tim) Mitchinson is a self-syndicated columnist writing on the relationship between thought, spirituality and health, and trends in that field. He is also the media spokesman for Christian Science in Illinois. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.