Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011: Back in the hospital at last...


Well, it took 6 months, but UC Irvine Medical Center has music therapy again in their cancer center and on their oncology unit!  I can't remember how much I have shared about this journey, but it felt SO GOOD to be back today.  In addition, I used to only be there 1-3 hours a week at best, and now I'll be there 10 hours a week!  I have been working toward today for a l-o-n-g time for up till now, I have kept busy as a sub-contractor or per-diem employee.  Today was my first official day on the job representing my own music therapy company, Sonic Divinity Music Therapy Services.  Sonic Divinity - as an idea - is probably 16 years old at this point, and to nurture a single idea for that long, through all sorts of iterations, well, I don't want the day to end without taking a moment to say thank you to a couple of key people who helped today become a reality.

1.  My wife.  It was back in 2003 when she encouraged me to go back to school and when I first discovered music therapy.  If not for her encouragement, I never would have found music therapy.  We knew that me going back to school full-time would rest the financial stability of the family squarely on Angelique's shoulders.  Not only did Ang support us through a move to CA, the purchase of our home in Orange County in the height of the real estate bubble, but she did so through the birth of 2 babies, one being Bella!  She is an extra-ordinary person quietly walking around this planet improving it every single day.  How?  EVERYONE who meets her or works with her CAN'T HELP but up their game after watching how gracefully she plays the game of life.  She is a thoroughbred, as my old friend Joe so aptly remarked way back in 1999.  I have always said that I live my life at the level I do just to keep up with Angelique.  THAT is how much she inspires ME every day, every week, every month, year after year after year.  I am a better man because of her.  Thank you, honey!

2.  My professor/mentor/colleague/contractor/friend, Helen Dolas.  Helen stepped onto the scene at Chapman University where I was getting my degree in music therapy at a pivotal point in the program where some key business acumen and fresh leadership was needed to assuage an impasse between the director of the program at the time and the students.  It was at Chapman where I first was challenged by her endless creativity.  More specifically to UC Irvine, Helen was the person who reached out to UCI to create a clinical placement in their infusion center in 2007.  I was the first Chapman student placed there under the partnership of Jennifer Higgins and Donna Baker, two of the social workers.  4 years later, Jennifer and I were brainstorming today about how to get me a pager for social work referrals up on the unit.  Helen was the spark, and living in Orange, I always knew that I would never let go of the work she built at UCI, for I always wanted to be a medical music therapist in an adult hospital.  Most graciously of all, Helen allowed me to pursue a contract with UCI directly after subcontracting under her for two years there.  The generosity she showed me in giving me that chance will never be forgotten, because I have named this new era of music therapy at the hospital the Dolas Music Therapy Program at UC Irvine Medical Center.  Thank you, Helen.

As a music therapist, when I see patients in the hospital, some sessions are good, some are okay, and some are just sublime.  Today, I had one of those sublime sessions with a sweet old man who was referred to me with "End of Life" as his referral symptom.  He is losing his battle with cancer, but willing to keep trying anyway.  The conversation we had was just amazing.  Just listening to his journey through life, and around the country along the way, he has had one rich and full life.  As we started to talk about music, he shared with me the type of music he loved, which I have a thick collection of.  Within a few seconds of me beginning my first song, "Red River Valley,"  he was awash in tears.  To some, that might alarm them, but music and I, well, we're pretty close. I know what hearing a song played live and played well can do to someone who hasn't heard that song in decades.  It can release a veritable FLOOD of memories, because the song acts as a "Tab" in the file cabinet of their mind, and when you pull that file open with the song, stacks of memories are lying perfectly intact within.  These memories are not 'forgotten' so much as not 'accessed' anymore, and they all come out together, like a stack of pages falling out of a file folder onto the floor.  Combine the emotions attached to those memories, and the mind suddenly has a FLOOD of emotion passing through it, like a flash-back, or life-review.  It can be very intense for people, and I've seen it and used it enough times to know it when I see it happening, and to walk tenderly through the papers on the floor with that person, until everything is picked back up again.

I love that walk.  It is SUCH a privilege.  The Greatest Generation, folks, grew up before home movies and video, or "BV" as I like to say.  Today, we broadcast and film EVERYTHING by comparison.  This greatest generation has all the movies never shot, blog entries never written, facebook posts and tweets never uploaded inside them, in their memory, and when this Greatest Generation dies, so does with it an encyclopedia of rich history we won't be able to get back through revisionist history books.

It is as if I arrive at the back alley door to their mind, but I have brought an old friend that knows the secret code.  The friend is music.  Their mind hears the code emanating from my guitar, and opens the door, and I am given a glimpse of the world - not the hollywood world - someone's real world of the middle half of the twentieth century, when this great country endured the Great Depression, WWII, the nuclear age, and the virtual explosion of America from within from the advent of highways and suburbia.  My dad turned 18 on August 29, 1945, just missing the draft into the Pacific Theatre, and spent 4 years on the tiny island of Okinawa serving his country during the Korean War.  Perhaps this affinity of this era comes from the love I have for my own father, who knows.  What I do know is that I feel humbled and filled with gratitude when I get to listen to the life story of someone from the Greatest Generation.

Whether it is your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or YOU, grab a recording device and get that part of your family talking!  You'll TREASURE those tapes, CDs, videos forever.  My dad's dad died when my dad was just a little boy, not much older than Ali.  I have only seen two photos of him, and what I would give to hear his voice just once.  Don't let your kids or grandkids feel this same way.  Have a BBQ and get the stories going.  It's summer, there's no better time a year to sit around swappin' stories.  They are what bond us from one generation to the next, and to each other.  If it wasn't for Bella's story, none of us would be right here right now, right?

Let us celebrate these stories this summer, and let them add color, texture, and context to the masterpiece we are creating ourselves this very day.

God night.

P.S.  CLICK HERE to watch the video I shot just after shooting this picture of Bella at RMH within a day or two of transplant.


  1. Tim... I really like this post! The imagery you painted to describe how music unlocks memories was awesome. It perfectly described how music and memory are intertwined and can rush to the forefront of your thoughts in an instant. You are their conduit to another time and place- what a powerful gift to do that for them.

    I have never met Ang, but the way you describe her makes me think of 'GRACE'. She sounds like she is an ideal partner and counterweight to you... you each have your strengths and you use them to compliment each others needs and dreams. That is a good marriage. What you have been through with losing a child can do one of two things- tear a marriage apart or make the bonds stronger. It is a tribute to the depth of your love that you both chose to pick each other up through the last year instead of lash out in despair. Thanks for letting us witness your journey together and learn some important lessons from it...

  2. PS... *love* that photo of Bella!!

  3. WOW - SO glad you're back, and that Sonic Divinity is a reality. Music is an amazing thing - and God has clearly given you a gift for sharing it and helping people along whatever journey they are on.

    Ang is truly an amazing woman - there are SO many things she and you have endured together, and it's wonderful that your love has gotten stronger throughout. May God continue to bless your marriage!!

    Love from TX,
    Laura (for the Team)

    PS - great video of Bella - thanks for sharing!!

  4. What a beautiful post Tim. God's plan is at work through you. My dad is part of that Great Generation, he will be 88 in August. I once heard the saying that "When an old man dies, it is as if a library burns down". They have lived through and seen so much. Love to all of you, Terri

  5. Wow, really miss reading this and connecting with you all! Ditto to Tracey...you are so blessed with a capital B to have Ang and to know and share who she is for you the way you do! Just amazing...bottle it and sell it! Or continue doing what you're doing and maybe some of us will catch on...
    Thank you again and again for sharing your lives with us...xoxoDonna/NJ

  6. I sat in on 19 interviews today for the assistant principal position at my school. One of our top contenders has a background in music therapy...I immediately felt connected to her, because of what you have shared.
    I love that picture of Bella, too. Sweet little face ;)

  7. Tim,

    Thanks for reminding us all to be GRATEFUL for everything around us. It's so easy to focus on the negative interactions we have with those close to us... and it somehow seems OK to be harsh with those we love the most.

    But your appreciation for Ang is such a great reminder to be kind and grateful and loving. You clearly benefit, as do your children. And because of your blog, we get to share a piece of that too.


    Karen Steiner
    Denver, CO

  8. SO excited and overjoyed for you!
    Tina in NJ