Nurse explores healing through medicine, music


The way Dee Jones sees it, music is good for the body as well as the soul.

"There's physiological data to back up how music helps in healing," said Jones, a nurse from Havre de Grace who has read about how music aids in endorphin production, muscle relaxation and other areas.

But when Jones lifts her voice in song, she isn't thinking about stimulating enzymes.

"There are all kind of theories out there, but for me, it's a part of my faith as a Christian artist," said Jones, an accomplished vocalist who recorded a compact disc of Gospel music in 2003. "When I'm singing, I'm focused on how I can honor God. I'm thinking about the needs of the people I sing for."

Tomorrow, Jones will be singing for members of the U.S. military as part of the VA-National Medical Music Group. Made up of doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical professionals, the group will perform at the Pentagon in a show that will be recorded and then broadcast on Valentine's Day over the Pentagon Channel and Armed Forces Radio and Television.

"I do it because I love music and I love nursing," she said. "This is one way for me to fuse them together."

Health care professionals say the merger of music and medicine is getting increased attention.

"Many doctors seem to have musical talent and ability," said Alice Cash, who runs a Louisville-based business called Healing Music Enterprises. "They're often wonderful patrons of the arts and season ticket holders."

Many doctors and nurses have seen firsthand the effect music has on their patients, Cash added.

"People who come out of comas sometimes report that they did hear the music while they were in them," she said. "There's a story about a nurse who went into the ICU. She would be humming or singing quietly when she was near a patient. When the man came out of the coma six weeks later, he said he wanted to thank the singing nurse. ... He said, 'She's who let me know I was still alive, because otherwise, I didn't know if I was alive or dead.'"

For Jones, 42, music has been a constant since her early years growing up in Virginia.

She was an only child in an extended family of gospel singers who toured as a group. She was often tapped to fill in when an aunt or uncle would miss a performance.

Members of her family who live in Virginia - including her grandfather - still perform and tour overseas.

Nursing also was a vocation in which Jones developed an early interest. She said that when she was 5 years old, her idol was Nurse Jessie on the long-running TV soap opera General Hospital.

It was a much more tragic event during her childhood that also influenced Jones. A neighbor was killed by a gunman who had broken into her family's house, she recalled.

"I remember thinking, 'I can help, I know how to help,'" Jones said. "I think that really solidified my calling."

Answering that call was a lengthy process, said Jones.

She married a soldier who has since retired from the Army. Over the years, there were many moves and two sons. She went to six nursing schools before completing her degree at the University of Maryland in 1998. She teaches nursing at Harford Community College, is pursuing a master's degree and also works as a nurse at the Perry Point VA Hospital.

Music has been a big part of Jones' presence at the Cecil County hospital, whether she is taking requests in a recreation room or offering a version of "Amazing Grace" for a dying patient at the chaplain's request.

At other times, Jones often can be found singing at a church, a community event or even on a cruise ship like the one she will be on for a Christian group's trip this summer.

She has performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen several times. Jones said the Baltimore Orioles called her a couple years ago but she had to decline that offer. It was for the same day she was planning to sing at the Washington National Cathedral as part of a kick-off service for the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health.

Organizers of the group, which advocates spreading modern medicine to developing nations, asked Jones to perform after they heard "Go Light Your World" by Chris Rice. Jones used the song as the title track of the gospel CD she recorded and produced in 2003. She keeps a video tape of her Cathedral performance in her living room.

"So carry your candle. Run to the darkness," Jones sings on the video, her powerful voice emanating from her petite frame. "Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn. Hold out your candle, for all to see it. So take your candle, go light your world."

It was a fitting song, Jones said, to be sung at an event named for Florence Nightingale, considered the pioneer of modern nursing. Nightingale's name also is sometimes incorrectly associated with vocal prowess; belting out songs is not something she was known for.

"But she did use music in the Crimean War," Jones said. "I don't know if she really knew how beneficial it was scientifically, but she did use music for the troops."

That's what Jones and the rest of the VA-National Medical Musical Group will be doing tomorrow.

The show is slated to include appearances by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Cokie Roberts of ABC News and television personality Ed McMahon.

The nonprofit orchestra and choir ensemble, which bills itself as the largest medical musical group in the country, draws members from most states and has performed at the White House and in several countries overseas.

The group was scheduled to rehearse Friday, yesterday and today to prepare for the event. Jones said she is happy to volunteer her time and cover the costs of participating. She's excited about the patriotic message tomorrow's performance will send.

"I'm looking forward to everything we're going to sing," she said. "But I think maybe especially 'God Bless America.' I love that one."

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