A Ghanaian daily carried a news item in its February 26, 2005 edition of a road- accident victim who became unconscious shortly after he was rushed to the University Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, which is the second largest city in Ghana. The hospital authorities did not know his relatives nor could they guess anything about the patient's identity apart from his name, which he was able to mention before falling into coma. The news item, which also carried a photograph of the patient's face with the characteristic fixed gaze of an unconscious person, was therefore a plea to the public to help identify the relatives of the victim.
This was an opportunity for music therapy. I therefore contacted the hospital on telephone and explained briefly the possibility of using music to revive the patient. Fortunately the relatives of the patient had also read the news item and so we arranged to meet at the hospital on Friday March 4, 2005. I travelled the 250 km journey and was warmly welcomed by the hospital staff.
My first task was to explain to the staff and the relatives the role of music in this particular case as it turned out that they had never heard of music therapy. I had taken two books with me, Musiktherapie in der Medizin and A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy, which I intended to show to the hospital staff so that they may subsequently acquire copies for their library. The two books, among others, were kindly donated by Professor Aldridge.
It was now the turn of the parents to answer a few questions about their son who was in his late twenties. Mom thought Dad could answer my questions better. What was the son's educational background? I asked this question so that I may guess some of the songs the patient may have learned at school. To which religious denomination did he belong? Again the question was meant to help me guess which hymns he would be familiar with. What was his social lifestyle? Finally, what types of music did he like listening to or singing?
Unfortunately Robert's father confessed he did not know his son's musical behaviour as his son left home when he completed formal education, was now married and lived with his wife who he thought would know her husband's musical tastes better. Robert's father promised to fetch his son's wife who was at the hospital earlier on but had left before my arrival because she was a nursing mother nursing her first baby. Meanwhile I had started making musical guesses based on what I had gathered about Robert from his father. He was a Methodist. So what did this mean musically? Although not a Protestant myself, I knew a good lot of Protestant hymns as a result of my non-denominational interest in church music during my youthful days.
After some hours, Robert's wife arrived. Robert's father was right. Robert's wife knew her husband's favourite songs although she could not sing some of them herself. "There is one song Robert sings often, which may be said to be his favourite. It is called 'Ebenezer'." That bit of information was enough. Let me say once again that I am not a trained music therapist but a systematic musicologist with a strong conviction that music therapy can help re-shape music education and musicology in my country. Fortunately, and thanks once again to Professor Aldridge, I had read the Kairos series I to V and particularly the chapters dealing with coma cases written by Dagmar Gustorff. So I was prepared to try my hands at something that was urgently needed. I was aware of the risk involved in failing and the consequences thereof, but I was not deterred, because somehow I felt intuitively that I would succeed.
Robert had to be cleaned and "prepared" for me, so I waited in the visitors' room patiently till I was ushered in. The senior nursing officers were watching, out of curiosity, though I would have preferred to be alone with the patient; Dad, Mom and wife were also watching. I took Robert's hand in mine, patted him gently on the cheek, called his name and began to sing "Ebenezer" softly, though loud enough for him to hear, i.e., if at all he could hear me. I was not expecting any unusual re-action from Robert the first time.
But to my surprise Robert could hear me! He joined me after I had sung the first phrase alone. He did not (or could not) sing in pitch, neither were his words intelligible; but he made "noises" which tallied with what I sang. I started the procedure all over again so as to convince my on-lookers that Robert was really responding to my singing by "singing" along with me. Next, I introduced rallentandos and ritardandos at portions of "Ebenezer" and Robert "sang" along in my retarded tempi too. That was enough to convince hospital staff and Robert's family that he was gradually waking up. I gave them assurances that his condition was not hopeless. They were all surprised, happy, and thankful that I had taught them something new. Robert recovered gradually and was finally discharged three months later in June 2005.
I was happy too that I did not misfire and that I had made a case for the use of music in healing. But with hindsight, I have asked myself a few questions for which I am still looking for answers: What would I have done if I did not know the tune "Ebenezer", which for sure I did not learn at school or university? What song would I have sung if Robert were an unschooled non-Christian and belonged to one of the fifty-three ethnic groups in Ghana whose language (not dialect) I do not speak or understand, and by implication, whose music culture/repertoire I am not too familiar with? Although I asked about Robert's educational background meant to help me guess some songs he may have been probably taught at school, what guarantee did I have that he was taught such songs at school, given the dearth of music teachers in Ghanaian schools and the indifference to music education by some policy-makers and some teachers?
If I had encountered a failure and embarrassed myself, would I have had another opportunity to redeem my professional reputation? Would I have got any suggestions from others via internet on how to handle a Ghanaian client? Can a non-Ghanaian music therapist who chances upon a similar situation be of help if he or she is not familiar with Ghanaian music? Conversely, can I as a Ghanaian help revive a non-Ghanaian (say a Liberian or Burkinabe) in a situation similar to Robert's? Finally, what should be the range of one's repertoire as a pre-requisite for effective music therapy in coma situations in a world, which claims to be shrinking into a global village? For my part, I know a few German, Irish, Scottish, Togolese, Kenyan, Welsh, French and Italian songs in addition to my Ghanaian repertoire. But who would say that the songs I know are also known to every Italian, German, Scot etc, so that I can hum such songs to elicit responses from coma patients of different nationalities?
The floor is open for comments, suggestions and discussions.
 Daily Graphic, Saturday February 26, 2005, Accra, p. 20.
 Aldridge, David (1999) Musiktherapie in der Medizin. Bern: Verlag Hans Huber.
 Wigram, Tony, Inge Nygaard Pedersen and Lars Ole Bonde (2002) A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
 Gustorff, D.(1997). Lieder ohne Worte' Musiktherapie mit komatösen Patienten auf der Intensivstation, In Aldridge, D. (Ed.) Kairos I: Beiträge zur Musiktherapie in der Medizin. Bern, Verlag Hans Huber; see also Gustorff D. (1998) "Grenzerfahrungen - Musiktherapie mit Herrn C." In Aldridge D. (Ed.) Kairos II
Kofie, Nicholas N. (2005). Reflections on a First Time Experience With a Coma Patient. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 12, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2005-reflections-first-time-experience-coma-patient