Hospitals Play 'Songs of Hope' as Virus Patients Go Home

In the 11 days he spent fighting COVID-19 at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, there was one thing Mark Schwarz couldn’t figure out.

Hospitals Play 'Songs of Hope' as Virus Patients Go Home

“Occasionally throughout the days there, you would randomly start hearing music playing and wonder, ‘What’s that for?’” Schwarz, 54, said Tuesday.

On Monday, when it finally came time for Schwarz to go home from the hospital in Nyack, New York, he heard for himself: The cheerful chorus of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” rang through the hospital hallways to celebrate his discharge.

Pick a hospital in the metropolitan area of New York these days, and you are likely to find that the staff has identified a song as the fitting soundtrack to the release of patients who had been hospitalized because of the virus.

Many have chosen “Here Comes the Sun,” long associated with finding joy through hard times. When it and other songs are played, it is not only a tribute to the resilience of the patient but also an anthem of affirmation for the medical professionals: Through long shifts, with few positive moments and supplies stretched thin, they have saved another life.

“I think it was more of a recognition of them than me,” Schwarz agreed.

At some hospitals, the music starts playing long before discharge. At Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, for example, nurses call for a “Code Sun” when a patient is removed from a ventilator and successfully breathing on their own; Montefiore Nyack plays it when patients move out of intensive care.

“Honestly,” said Devjit Roy, Schwarz’s doctor at Montefiore Nyack, “I guess it’s just the sound of hope.”

Several hospitals have chosen tracks with similar gentle optimism — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island, Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Others go straight for inspirational rock: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a popular pick, as is Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

There are the motivational pop hits — Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” — and songs that are emblematic of the city’s spirit, like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” At Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, there is a rotating playlist, including U2’s “Beautiful Day,” Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and the theme from “Rocky.”

Some hospitals opt for a more literal soundtrack. When a patient comes off a ventilator at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York, hospital staff put on Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2 AM).” Elsewhere on Long Island, at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, it’s the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”

Using music to celebrate patient milestones is not brand new, of course. At NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan in East Harlem, the ICU director, Natoushka Trenard, said they traditionally play music when a baby is born. Right now, she said, extubating a patient feels similarly miraculous.

“Don’t Stop Believin’,” she said, “sort of goes with the theme that in addition to all the science we’re trying to apply to these patients, all the medicine, all the research we’re trying to do in real time while this is happening — faith plays a part in this.”

Some doctors are keeping their own music going around the clock for an extra boost. Roy keeps a steady stream of Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, Ed Sheeran and others playing from his phone speaker. He’s not using earphones, and no one is complaining.

“Whenever the right song comes on, like ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ we all just start singing to keep the morale up,” Roy said.

The music is only one of several ways that medical professionals are trying to keep spirits high, both for patients and each other. At Montefiore Nyack, the physician who discharges the most coronavirus patients each day is crowned the “COVID Crusher.” Nurses give the winner orange juice and a tiara.

During Karla Duarte’s three weeks at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens, nurses brought in photos of her dog, Canelo, and had a spa day where they did her hair and painted her nails red.

But music was also a big part of boosting her morale. Karla, 16, heard “Here Comes the Sun” when she was taken off the ECMO life support machine. When she was discharged Sunday, the staff sent her home with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

“We’ve lost some patients, and we’ve had some victories,” said her doctor, James Schneider. But the song served as a reminder, he added, that “there is hope and value to what we do, and despite the challenges we’ve been facing together as a group over the last month, there is no mountain high enough. We’re going to overcome.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times .


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