Singing nurse integrates passions for music, medicine

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Susan Sonnichsen is looking forward to seeing Helen Cross, a patient with dementia who loves hymns. But Cross is having a rough day. Softly, Sonnichsen tells her, “I know something that will make you feel better. How about a song?’’

She starts in with “Joy in My Heart,’’ followed by “Old Rugged Cross’’ and then a favorite, “Amazing Grace.’’ Sonnichsen’s voice fills the space between nurse and patient. Slowly, Cross allows Sonnichsen to take her hand. “OK, we’re getting somewhere,’’ Sonnichsen says, smiling at Cross.

Sonnichsen has been singing ever since she was a kid belting out songs during family road trips. But in her 30 years in nursing, she never knew it could fit into her work. A dementia class for staff at Hospice of the Valley changed all that and today, music is as much a part of her care as is taking a patient’s vital signs.

“They love to sing along,’’ Sonnichsen says. “Even if they’re off key, it’s wonderful to engage them.’’ She prefers old gospel hymns and tunes from popular musicals, but happily takes requests and learns new songs. When a patient is close to death, she sings a lullaby and offers a gentle touch. When a family asks, she gladly sings at patients’ memorials. Some of her colleagues call her the singing nurse.

“Anyone who has enjoyed the experience of hearing Susan sing can attest that her ability to emote through music is a true gift,’’ says Hospice of the Valley social worker Donna Wetzel.

Sonnichsen says integrating her two callings, music and medicine, is a blessing.

“It’s amazing when patients join in with you. It just fills your heart,’’ she says. “It just touches you, makes you feel like that’s why you’re here.’’

Source: AZ Central

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