Stephens’ harmonica provides healing music to dialysis patients
Dialysis is a lot less traumatic for many patients these days thanks to the soothing harmonica tunes provided by John Stephens. Stephens, who began playing at age 12, is a dialysis nurse for Davita, which serves both National Park Medical Center and Mercy Hospital Hot Springs.
“I always keep one with me, and I took one out years ago in the room with the patients as they were receiving their treatment and started playing. The physicians and nurses didn’t mind, and it provided a calmer environment for the patients and took away a lot of their stress,” Stephens said.
Stephens developed a following among the patients, and soon he began receiving requests as dialysis sessions were taking place.
“It really seems to help the first-time dialysis patients who are just entering the treatment. For those who have been in there a while, they look forward to my soft music to relax them. In some instances, the pa- tients will even fall asleep as I play. There is so much uncomfortable stimuli in ICU, and if you have me playing, it provides a calming influence,” he said.
Stephens owns 36 harmonicas and is never without one in his pocket. He also plays with his praise team at Cedar Creek Church on Highway 5 and also worships with those who are in Teen Challenge, spreading his musical influence to more than just his patients.
“I remember one patient who drove a SCAT bus who was in a bad wreck. He woke up in ICU, and I was playing ‘Amazing Grace’ at his bedside. He literally thought he was in heaven,” Stephens said, recalling the humorous tone he placed in the middle of a critical injury situation.
“Amazing Grace” is one of his most-requested tunes, along with “Over the Rainbow.” Stephens plays mostly gospel tunes, but he also does some “jumpy” tunes when appropriate.
“In some cases, the nurses are dancing down the hall, putting an uplifting beat into an atmosphere that is usually filled with tension and fear from the patients,” he says.
In other instances, “I have been at patients’ bedsides during treatment, playing a tune for them. I can see their tension level drop right before my eyes. Their foot is tapping in the bed and they gradually doze off. When they see me the next time, most patients ask, ‘Did you bring your harmonica?’” Stephens has a strong Christian faith, and his harmonica music often opens the door among the patients for direct conversation.
“I try not to get too involved with it unless the patient brings it up. That happens a lot of times when I’m playing gospel tunes, and it often leads me to pray with them. I have a strong compassion for my fellow man. You have to have that to do the job I do, and my harmonica is one of my treatment instruments,” Stephens said.