Will You Sing Me a Song?

As a part of the 50th anniversary of the BYU College of Nursing, a book was compiled called “The Healer’s Art: 50 stories for 50 years.” It has been 15 years since this book was first published and these stories were shared. We plan to regularly post selections from this book to help each of us remember and cherish the experiences of nursing and learning the Healer’s art. 

Will You Sing Me a Song?

Angela Williams

As a beginning nursing student with no previous medical background, I was determined to learn the ins and outs of every procedure and do an absolutely perfect job at clinical. My first and second days of clinical went all right and I gained a little more confidence. During the second week of clinical, I was determined to get some new nursing skills down and spent the day concentrating on the new world I was discovering at the hospital.

I was assigned to a basic Med-Surg floor and had one patient, an elderly gentleman, who was recovering from surgery. He was doing well and my duties were not that difficult, now that I look back, but it was a whole new world to me at the time. I was so nervous about doing something wrong that I focused more on what I had to do than on the patient himself. Each time I left the room, I would ask the patient if there was anything I could do for him. He smiled and answered, “Can you sing me a song?”

I took his request as a joke because who in the world would really want to hear me sing? Smiling back at him, I would respond, “Now, you really don’t want to make your ears sick too!”

He would smile at me and say nothing else as I went about my business. The next day the same gentleman was my patient. I went in and did my assessment as efficiently as possible, trying to concentrate on what I was supposed to be looking for and how exactly I would chart it. Again came the question, “Can you sing me a song?” and again the response, “You don’t really want to hear me sing.”

Later, while I was concentrating on making sure his medication dosages were right and that he swallowed all the pills, came the question, “How about a song?” with only a smile at my response. The day continued like this until lunchtime, when another nursing student came with me to deliver his lunch tray and to do the midday assessment. As I focused on finding his pedal pulses and deciding whether to grade them as a l+ or 2+ the same question came: “Do you have a song for me yet?”

But this time the response was different. As I was about to smile and laugh off his request, the other student nurse responded: “I think we can handle that. We’ll get some of the other students so you can have a real choir and we’ll sing you a song later this afternoon before we leave.”

His smile grew and I kept thinking, “Can we really sing him a song? That doesn’t seem very nurse-like.”

During post conference my friend recruited several students to join us in singing my patient a hymn. We picked the song “I Need Thee Every Hour” and, armed with a couple of hymnbooks, we stood at the end of his bed and sang him his song:

I need thee every hour, In joy or pain.

Come quickly and abide, Or life is vain.

I need thee, oh, I need thee;

Ev’ry hour I need thee!

Oh, bless me now, my Savior;

I come to thee!

(Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hymn #98, 1985)

As the last note rang clear, we looked at each other and saw tears in everyone’s eyes. The patient took a deep breath and said, “That’s the best medicine I’ve gotten at this hospital yet.”

I left the hospital that day with one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in nursing school, and to my surprise, found that it had nothing to do with assessments, procedures, or medications. It was that I, as a nurse, could take the time to participate in the healing of someone’s heart or soul. This is, unlike what I originally thought, part of the nurse’s domain. The trick, I discovered, is to really listen to my patients. They may not know what they need on the medical level, but they will convey what they need from you on the spiritual level. I am grateful that my friend knew that already and was willing to listen to my patient when I was too focused on my own learning to do what he really needed. Being a new nursing student, I found myself focused more on my learning rather than on truly caring for my patient. My friend took the time to listen and gave me a true example of The Healer’s Art.

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