Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First installment of the Siriraj Chronicles: Hug your loved ones folks!

On January 24 I had the incredible privilege of spending the day at Siriraj (pronounced See-ree-rah) Hospital. Siriraj is the oldest hospital in Thailand and one of the largest in the world (2,700 beds!). This is where the King & Queen live now. Since I started working with Mahidol in 2008 it has been a goal to get services up and running here and we are finally in!

Getting there from my apartment is every bit as interesting as the day itself. I took the Skytrain to the Taksin Pier where I picked up a Chao Phraya Express boat which travels up and down the river delivering residents and tourists to a number of destinations. I'm going to take a slight "detour" from the clinical story here to share that there are any number of things that happen here on a daily basis that warrant a "only in Thailand" label and chuckle. So as I crowd into the middle of the boat (standing room only during rush hours) something down and to the left catches my eye...

Still not quite sure WHAT it was...a sugar glider? flying squirrel? It was little, fuzzy and cute but just wandering around on its owner on a very rocky boat full of people. I would ask, dear reader, that you please be impressed with my ability to snap this picture without anyone noticing. More humorous than this hot mess were the expressions on the farang to my right who looked horrified and disgusted. Unfortunately, I did not capture that on my phone. The whole scene was really quite amusing.

Back to the REAL story. Here are a couple of pictures of the hospital complex from the boat as we are approaching the pier.

The Siriraj complex houses many buildings (17, I think?) that include the Mahidol University College of Nursing and the College of Medicine. Our new MT program director, Dr. Montri, is a surgeon and was on faculty here for many years. He is an incredible champion of music therapy and will tell you that he is the "student" of music therapy. In my first 30 minutes walking through the "campus" it is evident that he is highly regarded here. People from all walks of life, from the custodial staff to the Deans of various departments,  stop to talk with him. I got the first rate tour and introduction!

He was my host as we made our way through several units, including dental surgery, oncology-chemotherapy, neurology and ended up for afternoon MT services in the pediatric oncology ward. The morning sessions by the MT staff from the College of Music were comprised of ambient music on the dental and chemotherapy units. The staff takes data on the decibel levels of the music and distributes feedback forms to patients regarding their experience and what music they enjoy. It never gets old to observe the response that people have to live music here. They are engaged, verbal and there is an instant rapport that I find remarkable.

This is a picture of the center of the hospital grounds which includes a statue of Prince Mahidol, grandfather of the current King. Prince Mahidol was a musician and artist and sought permission from the royal family to pursue the arts> his family would not allow the arts as a career so he became a doctor instead. I love this story for 2 reasons: 1) the current King (Mahidol's grandson), H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej, is a Renaissance man in his own right (scientist, researcher, musician, composer, and on and on) and 2) the ability to implement music therapy in a hospital founded by a man (and family) that know and understand the essential role of music to one's well-being and healing makes me feel a part of some larger cycle that is coming together after many, many years. I should also mention that the King and Queen reside on the top floor of one of the buildings here. You will see in the photo that there are people gathered here to make offerings and pay homage. There is also a sizable area behind this statue, on the ground floor of the building just behind where visitors can write well wishes and make offerings to the King & Queen as well.

Mornings here are spent providing ambient music in the dental surgery and chemotherapy outpatient units. While there is certainly benefit to this and the feedback is great, we're working on the move to something closer to music therapy as I know (and define) it. We will train and transition in musicians from the College of Music who are interested in serving in this capacity but not interested in direct patient care as a trained music therapist.

After lunch I observed a group on the pediatric oncology unit. The unit is comprised of two fairly large open spaces that hold 8 cribs and/or beds each. Children stay here for inpatient chemotherapy treatment. There are children (from 2 years to teenagers)  milling about, some with parents, others with nurses waiting for some kind of activity. I haven't been in an environment like this since having my children. Wow, does it make you thankful for the health of your own children and also marvel at the incredible spirit of these young "warriors". They are both spirited and sweet and though they look worn out when the session starts they seem to perk up fairly quickly. Children are usually grouped by age but there are only 5 or 6 children who were all in the 6-10 year-old range this week so we had just one group.
Here is our team: Moddang (MT-BC, trained and worked in the US, now works at MU, Karn (has been working with me since 2009 and is a full time MT staff), May (just joined us and helps with admin and data collection tasks), Melissa (KU student and MT intern) and Boh (MT staff, IT and video guy for our dept.)

Every time I observe here I am amazed at how much they do with relatively few resources (few staff, little money, not many instruments and very little training relative to what our students are accustomed to). They are so committed to these patients and families and are so ready for feedback and help...what a great team we make. I have an amazing job that has paved the way for incredible experiences, relationships and service. VERY BLESSED!