The nurse who serenades her patients
At first sound you might think the graceful notes floating through the air in the Memphis VA Medical Center’s ICU are coming from a patient’s television set. But on closer listen it’s clear: The music is live, courtesy of nurse Lori Sykes, who comes to work every day toting her violin.
Sykes, 35, has been using her musical skills to soothe and heal since she was nine. “My mom worked for a local mental health institute and she would bring us in to play for the patients,” says Sykes, whose siblings are also musicians. “It seemed to lift their spirits.”
Although her musical prowess won her a scholarship to the University of Memphis, Sykes switched gears in college and chose to pursue a career in nursing. Still, she never let her musicianship lapse, despite years of working in the ER before moving to the ICU a year ago. While the chaotic nature of the ER afforded her the chance to play for patients only occasionally, the calm of the ICU is conducive to daily mini-recitals. “I’ll play two or three songs on my violin or I’ll sing, usually hymns or spiritual music or whatever patients or their families request,” says Sykes. “Sometimes there are tears; people seem very appreciative. It seems to help them relax and take their mind of their suffering.” It’s not always easy to tell if the music is getting through, but recently a patient whom Sykes played for when he was on a ventilator later, when he was significantly improved, told her he could indeed hear the violin, even at his worst. “He said it took him to a higher level,” she recalls. We think RNs like Sykes take nursing to a higher level.