A COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at a Utah hospital brought staff to tears when he played his violin for them to show his appreciation and help lift their spirts.
Grover Wilhelmsen, a retired orchestra teacher, was intubated and unable to talk, but he used pen and paper to communicate with one of the nurses taking care of him at Intermountain Healthcare’s McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah.
“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?'” Ciara Sase, a registered nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital, said in a press release from Intermountain Healthcare. “I said to him, ‘We’d love to hear you play, it would bring so much brightness and positivity into our environment.'”
Sase and her coworkers talked through the details of Wilhelmsen’s request and, after getting approval from doctors, the team agreed they could manage it as long as Sase stayed in the patient’s room to monitor him while he played.
Wilhelmsen’s wife of 47 years, Diana, brought his violin and viola into the hospital, along with some music books. Wilhelmsen then played church hymns and other songs including the Tennessee Waltz.
Because all ICU rooms have glass doors that are kept closed, Sase turned on her Vocera communication device so her colleagues on the other side could hear Wilhelmsen play.
“About a dozen caregivers gathered to watch and listen in the ICU,” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes. For all the staff to see a patient doing this while intubated was unbelievable.”
Matt Harper, another registered nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital, was one of the staff members who came to listen.
“It was honestly shocking to be there when he picked up the violin. It felt like I was in a dream,” Harper said in the press release. “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.”
Wilhelmsen played multiple times over the course of two days before he became too ill and required sedation. Sase said she would be in the room with him for about two hours each time he played.
“Afterward, I told him how thankful we were and how much it meant to us,” she said. “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.'”
After spending more than a month battling COVID-19 at McKay-Dee Hospital, Wilhelmsen was discharged from the ICU to a long-term acute care facility where he’s expected to recover from the disease.
“He truly is special and made a mark on all of us,” Sase said. “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.”