An actor’s life | For once in my life …

April 29th, 2012 7:48 am| by admin

I saw an article on Facebook recently about the healing power of music: an old man, surviving in a nursing home in the US, had been living in his own little world and hardly communicating with patients or staff for over 10 years. Then someone had the bright idea of placing some headphones over his ears so he could hear some jazz music.

An instantaneous reaction took place. He began to tap his feet and sing along. Afterwards he was able to engage in articulate and detailed conversation with doctors about his life as he remembered his own story and the music that was important to him. His own little ‘Desert Island Discs’ programme. How he used to go dancing to all the great swing music of his era.

It moved me and reminded me of when my father was in hospital trying to recover from his stroke. Sadly he didn’t. One night a man was admitted just as all the men on the ward were settling down for the night. This man was screaming. Frightened. Blind. His stroke had taken his sight. The nurses moved him into a separate room at the end of the ward, but he continued to scream.

The nurses were too busy to give him personal care so I took it upon myself to take charge. An act of kindness took place, but it began with a selfish urge to simply shut him up so all the other men could sleep, particularly my dear old dad.

I walked over to the man who was screaming and gently held his hand. I told him who I was and why I was there. I explained that he had just had a stroke and that he’d lost his sight, hopefully only temporarily. I lent him my dad’s Walkman and he eventually calmed down and fell asleep.

I found out that he had no family or close friends. He gave me the keys to his house so that I could go and bring some of his own music back to the hospital. I did so. He never regained his sight and no-one came to visit him for the brief period he was on the ward.

He died three weeks later, but for the 20 nights he lived he had his music and the friendship that only closeness to death brings. I still have contact with some of the relatives that I met while my dad was there. I shaved and fed some of their dads. That’s what people do to help on terminal wards.

Music is the food of love. So play on …

Ian Burns’s next Copenhagen production is Harold Pinter’s ‘Old Times’ from October 24 to November 24.Tickets are available from Find out more at

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