In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

March 18, 2014

Mayo musical miracles

By In the Loop

Hands playing pianoWhen his doctor found a cancerous tumor in Rodney Nelson's eye during a routine exam, he and his wife, Teri, could have taken their referral and trip to Mayo Clinic in Rochester with all the seriousness his doctor told them it should carry. They could have come here and shuffled between appointments with their heads down, keeping to themselves. But they didn't, and we're quite glad of that, because what they chose to do instead touched the lives of some of their fellow patients.

It all started when Teri first laid eyes on the piano in the atrium of the Gonda Building. She could "hardly wait to get her fingers on the keyboard," Nelson later wrote in his "Up Sims Creek" column for And that's when Nelson says the magic happened. "Peoples' chins rose, eyes twinkled, faces broke into smiles," he wrote. Not only that, but "little children started skipping, and wheelchairs picked up speed." (We can picture that.) 

Rodney and Teri Nelson back home in MontanaThe next day, as the Nelsons were leaving the atrium, he writes that "a tiny, almost frail," elderly patient sat down at the piano and began playing. The Nelsons stopped to listen, and when the woman finished, Rodney walked over and told her that he "appreciated what she'd done" while adding that his wife "would love to play a tune or two with her." The woman told them that she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and had only decided to try playing a song after being inspired by Teri's playing. Soon, the two were playing together, and the atrium "filled with the happy notes of 20 fingers playing 'You are My Sunshine.'"

With Rodney's radiation treatments done, the Nelsons left for home, but they returned to Mayo Clinic for more treatments earlier this month. And Teri returned to the piano. When she noticed a young woman accompanying an elderly man in a wheelchair who had stopped to listen to her play, she approached the man and asked if he had any requests. He didn't respond, and the young woman said that her father had Parkinson's disease and hadn't spoken in more than two years. When asked if her father had a favorite song, the woman told Teri that he "had always loved" the "Blue Skirt Waltz." And so, as Nelson writes, the "Blue Skirt Waltz" soon "flowed out of the Missus' fingers." And as it did, Nelson says something miraculous happened: "The old man sang every word clearly and on key." When the song ended, Nelson writes that "with tears streaming down her cheeks," the man's daughter thanked Teri and said she regretted having not recorded her father's reaction on her cell phone. Teri looked the woman in the eye and said, "Let's do that one more time."

You can read more about the Nelsons' adventures at Mayo Clinic, along with Rodney's personal account of his care (which he says went very well, by the way), here and here. Then, be sure to share your comments below.

Tags: Patient Stories

Miracles happen everyday at Mayo

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