Intubated COVID-19 patient plays violin to thank his caregivers

Grover Wilhelmsen wanted to do something to give back to his caregivers at McKay-Dee Hospital where he was a patient with COVID-19. So, he asked if he could play his violin for them while in the ICU to help lift their spirits. He couldn’t speak to them while intubated, but he could show them his appreciation through music.

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Ciara Sase, RN, with Grover Wilhelmsen

Ciara Sase, RN, was taking care of Grover when she learned about his idea of playing. “He was intubated and unable to talk, but I knew from the other nurses that he’s a retired orchestra teacher. He’s been playing and teaching his entire life.”

Ciara says Grover was communicating with her on a piece of paper and he began telling her about his history with music and how much joy it brings him. She says, “Toward the middle of my shift he wrote, ‘You know, I really want to play here at the hospital. What do you think about my wife bringing in my violin and viola?’

“I said to him, ‘We’d love to hear you play, it would bring so much brightness and positivity into our environment.

Ciara and her coworkers talked thought through the details, as far as how to bring an instrument into a COVID room and keep it safe and free from damage. She also checked with Jesse Mecham, MD, to determine if it would be appropriate. The team agreed that as long as Ciara stayed in his room to watch all his lines and tubes, they could manage it.

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Caregivers listen to Grover play while in McKay Dee's ICU

Grover’s wife of 47 years, Diana, brought both his violin and viola into the hospital, along with some music books. And then he not only played, he played for a few hours for two days in a row. 

All the ICU rooms have glass doors that are kept shut, says Ciara, so she turned on her Vocera so her colleagues could hear Grover play through the glass.

“About a dozen caregivers gathered to watch and listen in the ICU,” she says. The songs included the Tennessee Waltz and lots of church hymns.

“It brought tears to my eyes. For all the staff to see a patient doing this while intubated was unbelievable,” she says. “Even though he was so sick, he was still able to push through. You could see how much it meant to him. Playing kind of helped to soothe his nerves and brought him back to the moment.”

Matt Harper, RN, says, “It was honestly shocking to be there when he picked up the violin. It felt like I was in a dream. I’m used to patients being miserable or sedated while being intubated, but Grover made an unfortunate situation into something positive. This was by far one of my favorite memories in the ICU that I’ve had. It was a small light in the darkness of COVID.”

"This was by far one of my favorite memories in the ICU that I’ve had. It was a small light in the darkness of COVID.”

Ciara says Grover played multiple times for a couple days before he became too sick and required sedation. “I was in there for an hour and a half to two hours each time he played,” she says. 

“Afterward, I told him how thankful we were and how much it meant to us,” says Ciara. “Before he took a turn for the worse, he continued to write things to me such as, ‘It’s the very least I could do,’ and ‘I do it for you guys because you all are sacrificing so much to take care of me.’”

“He truly wanted to do it as a thank you to the staff for taking care of him,” says Jared Sillito, RN. “It was a real morale booster to all of us.” 

“He truly is special and made a mark on all of us,” Ciara says. “When I started to cry in the room after he was done playing, he wrote to me, ‘Quit crying. Just smile,’ and he smiled at me.”

After spending more than a month battling COVID-19 at McKay-Dee, Grover was recently discharged from the ICU to a long-term acute care facility where he’s expected to recover. He looks forward to eventually going home and putting COVID-19 behind him. 

His wife, Diana, says he’s currently too weak to play, but when he gets his strength back, he’ll pick up his violin and return to his passion for music. 

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