From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

Music Is Contagious

Music is as powerful as any medicine.

Oliver Sacks

“You know, Mom, I’d be more useful to you if I caught up on some of my chores,” Emmy announced, thinking, Then I can get out of going to the hospital.

“Good try, but this time the chores can wait. Aunt Emelia is looking forward to seeing you,” Emmy’s mom answered as she put on her jacket.

Emmy didn’t like hospitals. What was fun about seeing sick people, especially on a sunny Saturday in spring?

As she and her mom rode the hospital elevator up to the third floor, Emmy tried to take her mind off of the disturbing smell of hospital food mixed with ammonia that seemed to be climbing up with them. So she hummed one of the songs she would sing to her aunt. Although she had rehearsed the songs with her middle-school chorus over a hundred times, she was nervous about singing without the piano to help guide her.

The hallways were quiet, but as they neared Aunt Emelia’s room, Emmy’s thoughts were interrupted by the distant sound of laughter, maybe a boy’s voice. She would have rather gone to that room. It sounded like a lot more fun. Prepare to bite your fingernails, stare out the window, and nod a lot, Emmy thought.

“Hello, Auntie Emelia!” Emmy’s mom announced loudly as they entered the room.

Chuckling, Aunt Emelia said, “You’re going to wake up the patients all the way down the hall. I’ve got my hearing aid on, Frannie.” Then turning to Emmy, Aunt Emelia said, “Oh, Emmy, I’m so glad you’ve come, too.”

“I miss your lasagna. When are you gonna go home, Aunt Emelia?” Emmy tried sounding cheerful as she leaned closer to give the old woman a kiss. Up until that moment, she hadn’t realized how much she’d also missed that familiar perfume, as well being stamped on the cheek with her aunt’s fire-engine-red lipstick. Aunt Emelia was trying to be her usual bubbly self, but Emmy could tell from her pale, drawn cheeks that the sickness had taken its toll.

“I knew you named her after me for a reason, Fran,” she laughed. “And don’t forget that you’ve promised to sing me some of your new tunes,” she reminded Emmy. “But first, would you get me some coffee, sweetheart? Just turn left into the hall, and the machine’s right next to the nurses’ station.”

Good ol’ Aunt Emelia hasn’t forgotten how to give out orders, thought Emmy. Still, there was something comforting about it, like things were almost back to normal.

“ . . . and come right back!” her mom yelled, as Emmy walked out.

Emmy wandered past endless carts piled with all sorts of packaged tubes, needles, trays, and bandages.

As she walked on, she noticed the distant sound of music and wondered where it was coming from.

While she waited for the coffee machine to fill the second cup, the music stopped. Instead, a loud voice came from that direction. Emmy left the cups of coffee on the table and followed the voice. Then the music started up again, and Emmy found the room from where the music was coming. As she peeked inside, she was surprised to hear, “Come on in!” A boy who appeared to be about her age welcomed her. He was thin, but seemed to have lots of energy.

Emmy quickly noticed that the only other bed in the room was vacant, so she asked curiously, “Who have you been talking to?”

“Oh, lately, I talk to myself while I write. It’s been kind of lonely since my roommate went home.” He pointed at the other bed. “And TV bores me. . . . By the way, I’m Richard. Don’t worry, I’m not contagious,” he added.

“I’m Emmy,” she giggled.

Emmy glanced down at her watch as she sat down on the empty bed, and the boy told her about his medical problems.

“It’ll act up off and on for the rest of my life,” Richard explained. “But when I’m feeling good, I play just as hard as any other kid. It’s not so bad,” he assured her.

Emmy admired his good attitude. She could not imagine being in a hospital room for two days, let alone two weeks, away from her friends and activities.

“If it weren’t for this little keyboard, I would’ve gone crazy here,” Richard said, adding proudly, “I write my own music.”

Emmy looked down to the floor at his electronic keyboard and was struck with an idea.

“Can you play by ear?” Emmy asked.

“Singing? Forget about it, but playing . . . you name it,” Richard answered. “But why?”

“Well, do you think the nurses would let you walk to my aunt’s room with me?” Emmy asked.

“Sure. I’m probably going home tomorrow. I can walk around. Why?” Richard asked.

Just then, a loud voice suddenly announced, “Would Emmy Delcora please return to Room 309?”

Emmy’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, no, that’s me!”

Looking down at her watch, she realized that almost an hour had passed since she had left Aunt Emelia’s room.

“I must’ve lost track of time. My mom’s probably worried sick and mad at me! Let’s get going, Richard. My aunt’s waiting for me to sing, and . . . you’re my accompanist!”

Richard’s eyes opened wide. “Just point the way!” he said as he threw on his robe, tucked the keyboard under his arm, and scurried down the hall after Emmy.

When they entered her aunt’s room, her mom asked anxiously, “Where have you been, young lady?”

Aunt Emelia joked, “That’s the longest I’ve ever had to wait for a cup of coffee, and instead, she brings back a new friend!”

“I’m sorry I made you worry, but I found a piano player. Mom, Aunt Emelia, this is Richard.”

Emmy never had so much fun singing her songs as she did that day. Richard made a perfect accompanist. Just as they finished, they heard applause and turned around to see an audience of patients and nurses crowded around Aunt Emelia’s door. Emmy was beaming. It felt good to see so many people enjoying their music.

As she and her mom prepared to leave, Emmy turned to Richard and said, “Thanks for saving the day!”

“Thanks for making mine!” he answered, and they promised to keep in touch.

From then on, Emmy thought of hospitals a little differently. She realized that fun is where you find it. And even sick people—especially sick people—need to have fun.

Mary Lou DeCaprio

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