Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Music for the soul — and lungs

Pamela puffed out her cheeks, blew and giggled with delight as the first squeaky, breathy sounds floated out of the harmonica. Her immediate success creating any kind of noise with her new instrument was all it took to get my 2-year-old's toes tapping with every new note she hit. Joseph, too, tapped into the joy of soulful harmonica playing while he experimented with the different sounds he could make as he moved his mouth across the instrument.

I bought children's harmonicas yesterday after reading about a program at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore that uses the instruments to help pediatric patients with pulmonary disease to exercise their lungs in a fun way. The story in RT: For Decision Makers in Respiratory Care (RT) noted that the breathing required to play the instrument could help children with asthma or pneumonia. It states, "The harmonica requires diaphragmatic breathing, pursed-lip breathing, and the use of both phases of ventilation (inspiration and expiration) to play a tune. These are maneuvers that health care providers encourage when a patient is admitted to the hospital with pulmonary conditions."

I don't usually jump after reading about one program or study that might help with my son's asthma. But the timing of this seemed to fill a need. Joseph went for his post-pneumonia lung check last week and, while the infection is gone, his lungs still have some inflammation. So he will need to continue extra breathing treatments before exerting a lot of energy, such as when he plays tennis — his favorite sport. I know that the effects of pneumonia linger for several weeks, especially in an asthmatic like Joseph. But the news about his lungs still brought me some dismay. After all, he is finally feeling good and we are both so tired of hearing me tell him to take it easy. So it seemed like a fun idea to bring a little musical therapy into our house.

While both of my children happily made their own kind of music, I fondly remembered my grandfather's skill at coaxing melodies out of the small wind instrument. Anytime I hear a harmonica I think of Grandpa Al and the way music lit up his warm face. I can still picture the shiny, silver harmonica with the red center fitting naturally in my grandfather's large hands. He would sit me on his knee while effortlessly playing folksy tunes.

The sounds resonating from my children's harmonicas evoke fond memories of my grandfather and hope that maybe those notes are helping my son's lungs. I don't know if our foray into harmonica playing will improve Joseph's health in any way, but we are enjoying it.

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