Soothing songs: Lorain musician finds reward in bedside performances

Filed by Lisa Roberson July 8th, 2012 in Top Stories.

The knock on 83-year-old Howard Stern’s hospital door came just moments after doctors outfitted him with an oxygen mask and gave the feisty elderly man instructions to breathe the clean air deep into his lungs.

The grimace on his face said what he was thinking without a word: He didn’t want to be fussed over in the Beachwood hospital and was ready to return to his Chagrin Falls home. He may be an octogenarian plus three years, but Stern still traveled to downtown Cleveland most days during the week to practice law, and a hospital stay did not fit into that schedule.

Still, Lorain native Jaclyn Palmer greeted his wife, Lenore Stern, with a warm and genuine smile and asked the woman if it would be OK if she came in to sing to her husband. Behind her in a hall of University Hospital’s Ahuji Medical Center, a cart that could easily be called a full band on wheels was parked, waiting for Palmer to wheel it into the room.

Palmer, 32, walked into the room, knowing that one day earlier getting through the door was a bit of work. Howard Stern originally told her he did not want to be disturbed. But he changed his mind after his wife told him Palmer reminded her of songstress Sarah Brightman. Just mentioning the name of Stern’s favorite soprano worked wonders.

On this day, Palmer came back with a treat for Stern.

Overnight, she had learned Brightman’s classic “Think of Me” and was ready to sing it for her patient. But it was not just a concert aimed at putting a smile on the elderly man’s face. As Palmer sang the song, the rhythmic beeps of the oxygen machine sounding every two seconds were in the background. It was a constant reminder Stern was not breathing as deeply as he needed to raise the oxygen level in his blood.

“Let’s see if we can get that beep to go away, Howard,” Palmer said as she picked up a guitar.

The Brightman song came out smooth, and Stern, who had been admitted to the hospital days earlier because of a blood clot in his lungs, nodded his head in agreement as he listened.

But the beep kept sounding in the background.

“Howard, you need to breathe,” Palmer said.

Palmer next began singing “Lean on Me” a cappella style, enlisting Stern to accompany her with a small pair of hand chimes. The melodic chime mixed with the beeping sound of the monitor, slow and steady but ever present.

Palmer, who is a board-certified music therapist, hoped that through the soothing effects of music she could coax Stern to relax enough to let the oxygen machine do its job. In the three months, Palmer, the daughter of Lorain County attorney Jack Bradley, said she has seen the healing power of music. It soothes pain, quiets nerve and can relieve stress.

Listening to the beep, Palmer pulled out a flat drum filled with hundreds of tiny metal balls and began slowing swaying the drum from side to side. “Ok, let’s try this,” Palmer said to Stern. “I want you to close your eyes and take a deep breath as I play this drum.

The elderly man obeyed without a word.

“Oh, I can hear the sound of the ocean,” Stern said as Palmer quietly began singing a slow melodic aria, “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Giacomo Puccini.

She paused only to remind Stern to breathe. Within moments, the beep of the machine slowed, eventually disappearing completely.

“I see you stopped beeping when you were breathing,” Palmer said.

Stern smiled.

“I know. I always enjoy your music,” he said.

While some may see the 20-minute visit to a patient as insufficient, Palmer said she is reminded every day that what she does helps people. “I see up to five patients a day, and every experience is different,” she said. “To me, it’s all about how powerful music is and how you can help patients going through tough times.”

Palmer may have just started to use her music abilities in the medical field, but she has been signing her entire life. Her talent and tenacity has taken her to a myriad of different places.

Her and her mother once appeared on MTV’s “Date My Mom,” Palmer released an album of songs she wrote, and when living in Los Angeles she landed a job as the personal assistant to Danny Bonaduce — a job that landed her a spot on his reality TV show.

“Music can do magical things,” said Palmer, who first graced a stage when she was 3 years old and participated in her preschool gradation by singing a song for parents. She later graduated from Lorain Catholic High School. “I have done wonderful things in my life, but nothing tops being bed side with a patient and seeing hope in their eyes.”

At University Hospitals, Palmer works with the Connor Integrative Medicine Network under the leadership of Medical Director Francoise Adan. Along with roughly 30 other professionals, the groups bring the benefits of holistic therapies like acupuncture, massage, yoga and Reiki to patients to promote health of the mind, body and spirit.

Palmer calls it a perfect fit for her, allowing her to give back to people while keeping music in her life.

“You think of fame and fortune as being glamorous, but when you are there you see there is a dark side,” Palmer said. “When I was in Los Angeles, I was incomplete and started to look at what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Music therapy was like a light that guided me here.”

Adan said finding Palmer has been great for the patients. She can sing as well as play a number of instruments, but more importantly has a love for music that is infectious.

“To have Jaclyn on board is great,” Adan said. “She not only brings some humor or joy to patients, but she does that for the health care workers and staff as well.

Palmer smiled softly as Adan handed out the accolades in an interview just before Palmer left to do her patient rounds that June day. The words are great, but not why she does her job, she said.

“I remember my first day here,” she said. “It was hectic and there were a lot of patients to see. I was walking down the hall when my eyes locked with a man in a hospital bed. He wasn’t on my list of patients to see, but you just know where you are supposed to go sometimes.”

Palmer said the man, who couldn’t be much older than 55, had just learned he had terminal cancer and would die very soon.

“He was scared, sad and alone,” she said. “I wanted to sing to him, but I know that sometimes singing a happy song is not the thing to do. So, I asked him if I could write a song for him.”

Palmer said she sat in a chair near the man’s bed and began asking him questions about his life. He thought she wanted to gather material for the song she was going to write. But Palmer said she was more interested in reminding the man that he had lived a wonderful life and was loved.

“I got an email from his brother that next night saying the man had passed,” she said. “I never got to sing him his song, but I think he was able to have a friend to talk to in me and some closure. In my mind, it allowed him to pass peaceful. That’s why I do this job. I want the focus to be less on me and more on others.”

Later in the day, Palmer walked in the room of 63-year-old Kathleen Zaker of Broadview Heights, who was in moderate pain after knee surgery and was attempting to sleep.

Zaker said music therapy has never been incorporated into her medical stay before, but she loved the songs Palmer sang.

“She plays some of the old stuff I like,” she said.

After a beautiful rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” from the production “Fiddler on the Roof,” Palmer packed up her belongings and told Zaker she would let the visibly tired woman get some sleep.

But before leaving, she played a quiet melody on her guitar and sang Zaker to sleep.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.

To read the article on The Chronicle-Telegram's site, click here.