Standing in a hallway at the Ottawa Hospital in the doorway of an ICU patient’s room — dressed in her scrubs, mask on and guitar in hand — endoscopy nurse Amy-Lynn Howson strums her guitar as she softly sings, “You Are Not Alone.”
It’s been a rough go as Ottawa and its nurses ride the third wave of COVID-19.
With patients coming and going through the hospital’s revolving doors, it can get lonely at times — isolating, even — but Howson is doing what she can to help lift the spirits up of patients and fellow front line workers at the Ottawa Hospital.
And she does so by singing some of her original songs to patients who find themselves alone in their hospital beds, without family by their side.
“It’s the most fulfilling thing I could ever do,” Howson told CityNews Ottawa. “I know they’re being allowed to feel something that they need to feel — that they’ve not been letting themselves process whatever it is they’re going through. And I know that I’m doing my job if they’re able to have a private moment to feel something and process emotionally what they’re going through.”
Howson’s journey started back in 2017 where she had worked as a nurse for about a year before leaving to attend music college in Memphis.
Her music has even brought her on tour with a Nashville non-profit organization.
When COVID-19 hit, however, she decided to come back home to Ottawa to be closer to family — and when she did, she went right back to nursing.
For Howson, being a nurse allows her to tap into her many talents.
“I love using my brain,” she said. “I love solving problems, learning news things. Especially in endoscopy, it’s a privilege to help people get through a vulnerable time in their lives.”
Howson first got the idea of singing to patients when she was on a medical mission trip in Iraq in 2017, where she saw a co-worker doing the same.
When she came back to Ottawa, she thought she’d give it a go at Ottawa’s Mission, where she played music to hospice patients.
Then when she came back to the Ottawa Hospital, she brought out her guitar around the holidays and started to sing to patients then.
But it wasn’t until earlier this week when Howson pulled out her old friend again and brought back her musical musings to patients when she was redeployed to the ICU.
This is Amy-Lynn. An endoscopy nurse at The Ottawa Hospital, who has recently been redeployed to the ICU.— The Ottawa Hospital (@OttawaHospital) April 24, 2021
Here she is with a beautiful song for our patients... “You are not alone”.
Thank you for lifting our spirits, Amy-Lynn! 💙#StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/Xn11mNr44D
“There’s a real sense of heaviness and things feeling very bleak with it being the third wave and being in the ICU,” she said. “People need some hope. Even if they don’t make it out, if we can be there with them in their final moments — that’s something really important that I think can give comfort to the families who can’t be there — if they know someone is there caring for their loved one.”
Not to mention, the staff also enjoy the pick-me-up, she said.
And Howson's actions have not gone unnoticed beyond the ICU floor.
"We’re so proud of Amy-Lynn for living the values of our Hospital and for the compassionate care she is providing to patients," the hospital said in a statement. "Actions like hers make such a difference to our patients and their families."
“I think it’s equally important for the staff I’m working with to know that they’re not alone either because it can be very isolating to be on the front lines,” she added. “With COVID being so unprecedented… there’s a sense that medicine is feeling like it can only go so far and that’s where it’s like, ‘OK, what else can I do here to help?’”
In fact, Harvard Women’s Health Watch reports that music therapy can calm anxiety, ease pain and provide a “pleasant diversion" during hospital stays.
While Howson mentioned that she'll be releasing the song online next month, what's most important for her right now is being a nurse, continuing to sing for patients and lifting spirits up whenever and wherever she can.