Musicians on Call reach out to patients

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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — When Janice Ruge found herself at Wilmington Hospital's Center for Rehabilitation following surgery to remove a brain tumor, she wasn't expecting a show.

But she got one right there in her sixth-floor room.

Ruge was one of the first patients to be entertained by a local musician thanks to a new partnership between Christiana Care Health System, WXPN 88.5-FM and Musicians on Call, a New York-based nonprofit started in 1999 to bring live performances to the bedsides of those who need them most.

Wearing a matching sky blue shirt and bandana, a smile broke out on Ruge's face as Brandywine Hundred folk singer John Flynn played a few of his originals like "Love Takes a Whole Box of Crayons" and even an old Kris Kristofferson tune after hearing Ruge was a country fan.

It just happened to be her last day at the rehabilitation center, so for her, Flynn's songs were some final words of encouragement before taking her recovery battle back home.

"It was relaxing and very enjoyable," says Ruge, 52, of Woodstown, New Jersey, who is now undergoing outpatient chemotherapy, nearly a year after her surgery. "I certainly had never been serenaded in a hospital before."

The program, which launched in October with performances by Flynn and innovative Wilmington-based pop musician Angela Sheik, also brings singers to patients at Christiana Care's Acute Care for the Elderly each Wednesday for 90 minutes. The patients' families are also invited to the sessions.

The local program is funded by the Light Up the Queen Foundation and The Kenny Family Foundation, the charitable group run by the operators of the Kenny Family ShopRites of Delaware. Gable Music Ventures is a musical partner.

Flynn, who was recruited by his friend and WXPN host Helen Leicht to perform at Wilmington Hospital, says he was there to make sure the patients knew they were not alone.

"When you're put in that sick category, you're either branded by yourself or others outside the norm. And this is one way you can reach out and tell them, 'You're still one of us,'" he says.

Sharon Kurfuerst, senior vice president of administration at Christiana Care, says the program was brought to the hospital after a staff member experienced the in-hospital concerts when a family member was hospitalized in Pennsylvania.

She says the power of music is strong. She's seen it firsthand at the rehabilitation center, which cares for patients with complex injuries like strokes, amputations and spinal cord and brain injuries.

"When you get a brain tumor and you're 50 years old, depression tends to be a side-effect of that. (Musicians) resonate music with emotion, so if you're feeling sad, sometimes music really helps," Kurfuerst says. "It also tends to be really energizing for the patient.

"These events are life-altering for the patients and their families. Music is familiar — it's a little taste of normalcy in what otherwise is not a normal experience. A little bit of a celebration at a time that is not often celebratory."

WXPN launched its spin-off WXPN Musicians on Call 10 years ago and since then, more than 70,000 patients and their families have been sung to at Philadelphia-area hospitals.

Adding to the beauty of the program is the two-way street of appreciation. Doing a show at a hospital and singing to those in struggle might sound like a tough gig, but Flynn says it's anything but.

Like Paul McCartney once sang, "The love you take is equal to the love you make." Or as Flynn puts it succinctly, "You get more than you give."

"You feel like you're two or three inches taller after doing something like that," he says. "They are anything but a tough audience. They so appreciate the gesture that you could probably go in banging spoons on pots and get a standing ovation because they are so starving for something different, something fun, something human."

And when a bit of the outside world penetrates the sometimes sterile world of medicine, it's dynamic.

"Just the sight of a guitar in a hospital wing somehow smacks of subversion. Something is amiss in a place where you normally see stethoscopes and bedpans. It seems like there's a little bit of a revolution going on even though it's done with great care and respect for hospital protocol and privacy," he says.

"Sometimes in a dark place, just a smile can be a revolutionary act and a song can be a full-throated rebellion. A little rebellion is sometimes good for the soul and body."


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.,

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