Breathing Spaces – Stephanie

Stephanie’s Story - A hospital appointment I couldn’t wait to tell my friends about

Patient Stephanie Armstrong

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTFT) patient Stephanie Armstrong was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2005. A Primary School teacher originally from Canada but now living in Surrey, she saw an increase in symptoms last year and struggled to get them under control. This meant periodic visits to Guy’s Hospital and feeling gravely ill. Stephanie told us:

“Crohn’s is a hideous and embarrassing disease. Talking about how it affects you is humiliating, even when speaking to physicians. I was living a ghost-like life, just going through the motions of living.”

In May 2019, Stephanie went to Guy’s Hospital expecting a routine appointment like any other, but approached us after an inspiring encounter with Breathe Musician, Guillermo Rozenthuler. Guillermo transformed Stephanie’s hospital experience with a Breathing Spaces performance in the outpatient waiting room she was in.

I cannot tell you how appreciative I am to you for arranging for Guillermo to visit and offer that brief, but wonderful, escape from our worries and stresses as we sat in that waiting room… I was pleasantly surprised when a guitarist arrived and offered to play his guitar and to sing to us. This gentleman was kind and empathetic to those waiting to be seen and incredibly engaging.

Guillermo is one of 14 Resident Musicians in our Breathing Spaces programme who play daily across clinical units, wards and waiting areas helping to calm, uplift and inspire patients. Each session is sensitive to the surrounding healthcare space, and offers a shared cultural event, sense of community and social interaction across the Trust. Stephanie said:

Resident Musician Guillermo Rozenthuler

“Guillermo’s musical playing and singing was beautiful, but it was the connection that he made with his audience that was so special. After telling everyone a little bit about himself, an elderly Mexican couple asked him to play some Mexican music, which he happily did. The elderly gentleman proceeded to sing along with an equally wonderful voice.

The experience was magical… Guillermo’s visit offered an opportunity for all of us waiting there to be more than a room full of worried and ill people. For those thirty minutes, we were music enthusiasts and an audience that hung on every word that Mr Rozenthuler uttered.”

Breathing Spaces is influenced by research by Nilsson (2008) who found that at least 30-minutes of listening to music significantly reduces anxiety levels and gives an effect of relaxation and pain relief – the minimum duration of any of our performances at GSTFT.

Your programme turned what was an uneventful and routine hospital appointment into something special that I could tell my colleagues about when I returned to work today! Thank you very much for everything that you do to support the increasing of wellness in hospital patients. It does make a difference.

At Breathe Arts Health Research, we are committed to providing moments of music, magic, dance – and much more – to improve patient, visitor and GSTFT staff wellbeing. Stories like Stephanie’s help us tell others about the work we do. If you would like to share your Breathing Spaces story, please get in touch with Georgia at georgia@breatheahr.org

The Performing Arts Programme is delivered by Breathe Arts Health Research and made possible with support from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.