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Strings During Troubled Times

Updated: May 19, 2020

You've been working on the COVID-19 floor for a few days now. You and I had a patient who became very ill and instead of pursuing life-prolonging interventions chose comfort measures only. How was this experience and how was talking to his family?

“He was an older gentleman and it was not unexpected. He was part of a demographic that unfortunately. It looks like his family was prepared for this."

"I spoken with her several other times throughout his hospitalization. She was familiar with who I was. I knew that she was very prepared for this. It was sad. She shared some of those things. I wish I didn’t have to bring her bad news. I suppose I’m glad that she heard it from someone she has heard before rather than a completely new voice she’d never heard of before for that news."

We've had a few night shifts together, whether on the labor and delivery floor or on the adult inpatient ward. It's not a common thing to see a resident playing harp in the hospital! How does playing the harp help you as a physician?

"I have been playing a little bit less but still some. I brought it to the ocean maybe two or three times since the pandemic started as well. Which is less than usual. I had a few lessons through skype since then. Harp gives me a completely unrelated challenge that's fun to work on. I enjoy the music I play and the people that the harp has brought me. It's good to have an anchor to life outside of healthcare.."

"Medicine is often important for life, but it is not life itself, despite the tendency for training to edge out other activities. It's important to have at least one or two other things that you do. For me, harp has become one of the things I enjoy outside of medicine. I've always had music in my life, but had to shift away from choirs on account of scheduling conflicts with work. I had played harp for a bit as a kid, but picked it up again during intern year when I wanted something that I could do in the evenings after getting back from the hospital late."

"I'm actually not naturally very good at it -- I have had to work at making my fingers do my bidding. I've improved a lot over the last couple of years, and have enjoyed the challenge. Harp has certainly brought me places I didn't expect: I have a great teacher, I've gotten involved with harp circles, I've been to a harp conference, and I've found out just where you can go with a small harp-- including occasionally when there's downtime on an overnight shift."


Julie Powers MD is a third year Family Medicine Resident at the Worcester Family Residency Program associated with the University Massachusetts. She is currently pursuing opportunities in California to do primary care work and obstetrics.

Photographer: H. Del Rosario

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