By Ms. Suzanne Ovel (Army Medicine)December 17, 2015
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Dec. 17, 2015) -- The patient was just too agitated to stay in his bed. A World War II veteran with dementia, he kept changing out of his gown and trying to leave the inpatient floor.
Capt. Edwin Choi, the doctor on call at Madigan Army Medical Center, couldn't give him a sedative - it wouldn't react well with the man's dementia - but what he could do was play the guitar for him. So he spent an hour strumming classical music tunes as well as the songs of John Denver, the Beatles, the Eagles, and the Penguins, until the 82-year-old veteran fell asleep.
"I think music in itself is therapeutic," said Choi, who taught himself to play guitar in medical school.
While he helped calm down the patient and got him to stay in his bed, Choi also helped the nursing staff, since the patient in his agitated state was taking care away from other patients on the floor.
"I personally, along with all our staff, was so incredibly impressed and touched that a physician would take time out of his busy night to help a severely demented and scared gentlemen fall asleep," said 1st Lt. Amy Davis, a clinical staff nurse on 6 North.
That night was not the first time the Family medicine resident paused to bring some compassion to patients through music. During an intensive care unit, or ICU, rotation, one of Choi's patients was taken off of prolonged life support. Although his Family said goodbye to him, the patient was alone during the last few hours of his life. Choi asked if he would mind if he played guitar for him, so he sat in his ICU room for two hours playing Christian, classical and popular music.
"I just played guitar for him until he fell asleep and passed," Choi said.
He would pick up his ever-ready guitar a few more times during his residency here, including once when in the ICU, he met a young girl with Down syndrome and her parents.
"It's hard, I think, for kids," he said.
Choi actually got his inspiration to go into the field of medicine when in high school he went on a children's ministry trip. He saw doctors giving free aid to people in rural Brazil, and decided being a doctor was a noble profession to help people in need. A turn helping a free clinic in the Republic of Mozambique and several residency rotations later, Choi now takes care of 150 patients in Family medicine, seeing patients of all ages - from newborns to the elderly.
He also still takes shifts as an on-call doctor with inpatient floors.
Recently, he was able to help one more patient through music. She went through a significant surgery and medical complications, suffering memory loss afterwards. Her husband would visit and just sit by her bedside. When Choi talked to him, he mentioned that his wife liked Christian music, so Choi played for a bit. After a while, the patient perked up and began interacting once again with her husband.
Whether patients are alone or with visitors, Choi feels that being inpatient can be stressful and lonely. When he gets the occasional chance to sit and share music with a patient, it is one more opportunity to provide them with care and comfort.
"I feel like that's why I became a doctor," he said, "to be able to be there for someone when they really need someone to help them."