The Piano Man

We had a piano in one of the day rooms at the Minneapolis VAMC. And we had a patient that played it whenever he was in the hospital. He was an old guy, so he played songs from the 40’s and 50’s, and he even sang the lyrics. He was really good! Everyone loved him.

The last time he was admitted, there was something distinctly different about the Piano Man. For one thing, he repeated everything I said, really loud.


And it wasn’t just me. He repeated everything anyone else said.


I figured the guy had had a stroke, so we ordered a Neuro consult, and he was transferred to a medical unit. And he stayed there.

A couple weeks later, my gut asked me whatever happened to the Piano Man? I looked him up in the computer and found the unit he’d been transferred to. My shift would end in about half an hour, it was ‘pink’ on the unit–nurses never use the Q word–so I went upstairs to see him.

The Piano Man did not look good. He was shiny and sweating. He breathing was labored and irregular. And he looked terrified!

“I’M SCARED!!” he gasped. I reached out and took his hand.

“It’s okay. I’ll stay here with you.” I said. His breathing calmed down a bit, but he still looked afraid. His eyes darted all around the room, as if he were trying to locate the source of a spooky noise.

“Maybe we could sing a song,” I suggested.

“NO! I DON’T WANT TO SING!” he said. But I started singing.

“Every time it rains, it rains…” I started.

“Pennies from Heaven…” the Piano Man chimed in, his voice returning to a normal volume. It was the only song I remembered from the songs he used to sing. Despite his reluctance, the Piano Man and I sang two verses of the song. He relaxed a bit with each word of the song.

“There’ll be pennies from Heaven for you and me…” We finished the song. I smiled at the Piano Man. He smiled back. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He closed his eyes…and he died.

I went back to my unit. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. The Piano Man had left this world, but he had done so unafraid, with a song in his heart.

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