Singing chaplain uses music to comfort ailing patients
When chaplain Stephanie Gameros stepped into a hospital room several weeks ago, tensions were high: The patient, a mother-to-be, was ordered to be on bed rest and had been in the hospital for three weeks. The baby’s heart rate was dangerously fast, and the monitor attached to the woman’s stomach registered the quick blip-blip of the baby’s heart in utero. Gameros offered to sing a song, and with the nurse’s encouragement, the anxious mother agreed.
As Gameros crooned James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” to the strumming of her guitar, the baby’s heart slowed, beat by beat. Within the few minutes it took to sing, the mother appeared calmer, and the baby’s vitals were much closer to normal.
“In singing chaplaincy I found my own niche to use the gifts God has given me,” says Gameros, who earned her Master of Divinity from PSR in 2009. “Sharing my love of music makes it powerful. It’s a different level of intimacy – it’s a spiritual experience every time. I sing my best with patients.”
The Oakland resident walks the halls of the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center with a guitar slung over her back; other days, she sings to palliative care patients at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. She has found that music can reach people who aren’t interested in talking with a chaplain and those who are unable to. She often plays a patient’s favorite tunes—whether that means belting out Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” or learning a Waylon Jennings country ballad. “Music helps the patients and their families spiritually, emotionally, and mentally,” Gameros says.
One day, Gameros sat with a former Baptist minister and an Alzheimer’s patient who couldn’t speak a full sentence. She pulled out her guitar and played the opening chords to “Amazing Grace.” To her surprise, the man began to sing with her. “He sang all six verses with me out loud,” she remembers. “And even if I forgot some of the words, he knew them all. It was a joy to witness that. Maybe for a moment he felt like himself.”
Music doesn’t help only those who are ill—it strengthens Gameros’s faith as well. That experience with the former preacher taught her that what we learn and feel at church or in the presence of the divine isn’t fleeting. “It helped me see that God is retained, that God is with us in our darkest times,” she says. “And that gives me peace.”
For more information about Stephanie Gameros
Feature article in So Healthy