Volunteer’s Music Brings Healing

debbieOnce a week, patients in the National Jewish Health chemotherapy infusion room enjoy live music performed by volunteer Debbie Green, a certified music practitioner (CMP). Green is one of the volunteers who work in many departments at the institution, including Morgridge Academy, the infusion center, adult day unit and Nan and Dollie’s gift shop.

Green, who brings her hammered dulcimer to the infusion room for several hours each week, plays mostly Celtic style melodies that she modifies to match the patients’ moods and bring about a more relaxed state. She has been playing musical instruments since childhood.

“Vibrations from an acoustic instrument like the hammered dulcimer resonate in the body and can bring anxiety levels down,” Green said. “If the patient is happy and feeling social, I’ll play more upbeat music to match the mood.”

Green, a retired special education teacher, completed coursework with the national Music for Healing and Transition Program, which teaches musicians to use therapeutic music to provide one-on-one palliative care to ill and dying patients in clinical and hospice settings. Green is one of a handful of CMPs in the Denver metro area and the only one who plays the hammered dulcimer, a unique stringed instrument. Other local CMPs play harp, guitar, Native American flute, and even a banjola, a banjo-mandolin hybrid.

“We are not music therapists,” Green said. “We don’t have goals for patients; we play to create a nurturing environment and facilitate patients’ healing.”

Green first heard about CMPs at a gathering of hammered dulcimer players. A chaplain at Children’s Hospital talked about the program and helped her get internships playing at Children’s and at North Suburban hospitals. After she earned her certification, Green called National Jewish Health volunteer services. Helen Quelch, volunteer engagement manager, put Green in touch with Sharon Baker, RN, Infusion Services, and Bronwyn Long, RN, DPN, Department of Nursing.

“I started playing for them, and within five minutes they said they would like me to play for patients in the infusion room,” said Green.

“The minute Debbie started playing her instrument, Bronwyn and I knew that she would be perfect for the chemotherapy infusion room,” Baker said. “Our oncology patients are often there for long periods of time. Her music provides an environment of relaxation in an often chaotic room full of patients and health care providers. Her music keeps everyone in the room calm and relaxed, which makes their treatments seem less scary and long. I hear compliments from the patients and the nurses every time she plays.”