A Happy Duet

DJ and Harry

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                                                           D.J. & Harry (& Tony & Rose)

 

They’re an unlikely duo, a young 23-year-old woman from a small town in
North Carolina and an 84-year-old man from a rural village in India. But when
D.J. Poplin began visiting Harishchandra “Harry” Mehta as part of her VNA Music
Therapy internship, she found they had something in common – love for a good
song.

“Would you like country or rock?” D.J., now a regular at the Mehta household
in Vero Beach, asked Harry one afternoon in mid-November as she played a few
warm-up chords on her guitar.

“Country!” exclaimed Harry, who was diagnosed last summer with stage four
colon cancer and is on VNA Hospice.

“Great, we’ll do some Hank Williams,” D.J. replied playfully as she pointed
to a picture of the famous country musician on her phone. “He died in 1953” she
said to Harry, in addition to a few more facts about the late musician, and
then began belting, “Hey, good lookin’, what you got cookin’? How’s about
cookin’ something up with me?” while Harry played a drum, a gift from D.J. The
two musicians were accompanied by Harry’s wife of 54 years, Rose, and their
adult son, Tony, who both banged away on drums that D.J. always brought for
them during her weekly visit.

When D.J. finished singing the iconic country song and everyone stopped
playing their instruments, Harry led them in a traditional Indian song. “It’s a
family affair,” said a happy, relaxed D.J.

But she wasn’t always this laid-back. When D.J. first started visiting Harry
at his in-law suite where he and Rose live behind Tony’s house, she was
nervous. “I’m a country girl. I didn’t know anything about Indian music, and I thought
to myself, what am I going to do? So, I did my research and met Harry and Rose,
and Harry said, ‘I like American music and I’d like to know more about the
American culture.’ And I was like ‘perfect, I know plenty of this.’ And we
started doing sessions,” said D.J. “Once we built some rapport, and we felt
more comfortable, Harry said, ‘Can I share some songs from India’ and I was
like, ‘Sure, I’d be more than happy to.’ So, what we’ll do now, we take turns
sharing songs and doing translation of the lyrics and talk about our cultures,
our favorite holidays, how we celebrate weddings, how we celebrate Independence
days.”

This kind of cultural exchange created a special bond between D.J. and Harry
as well as the rest of the Mehta clan. It’s become clear that the intern’s
upbeat presence, musical talent and natural compassion have made her an
unofficial member of the Mehta family. And Tony believes D.J. has greatly
contributed to his father’s health, which has improved significantly since he
was initially diagnosed with colon cancer. At his worst, Harry was in the
hospital taking oral medicine and getting blood transfusions; his speech was
impeded and overall, he was feeling horrible. But he still wanted to go home,
and against his doctors wishes, he did.

Clearly, it was the right choice. “He no longer slurs…he’s pretty
stabilized, and his zest for life is just incredible, especially his love for
music,” said an appreciative Tony. But he’s not surprised at D.J.’s dedication,
because this wasn’t his family’s first experience with a VNA team member. Last
December, Tony was diagnosed with COVID-19, and a contact tracer from the
health department called and informed him that his parents needed to be tested.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to get them tested’ and I said, ‘I’ve got nobody else
to drive them… can you send someone to test them at home?’ and the person at
the health department said, ‘Nobody has asked us that before’ and I said, ‘Well
I’m asking,’ and a day or two later somebody came from the VNA.”

Tony recalled how incredibly thankful he and his parents, who tested
negative for COVID-19, were for VNA’s services. But they didn’t think they’d be
needing them again only six months later.

In addition to D.J, Harry’s VNA Hospice services include a nurse, Debbie,
who visits twice a week and checks his vitals and overall health, and three VNA
home health aides, Dana, Rebecca and Crystal, who alternate visits three times
a week and provide bathing.  Harry and his family have grown fond of all
their VNA caregivers and are grateful for their help, but their unabashed
favorite is their musical intern.

As part of her internship, D.J. has been videotaping the music sessions. She
plans on compiling them into one complete video called a legacy project that
she’s going to gift to the Mehtas. She anticipates finishing the project toward
the end of her internship, an experience she’s been thoroughly enjoying. “It
has been amazing! I love hearing Harry sing different songs each week and giving
me a translation of the lyrics. Indian music is way more beautiful and
intricate than I expected it to be,” she said.

And there’s no doubt that Harry enjoys their musical sessions too.  As
Tony pointed out, “People ask him how he’s doing and he says, ‘I’m getting
better every day.’ So, one day I asked him ‘Dad, why are you telling people
you’re getting better every day? You know what’s going on,’ and he got quiet
for a moment, and he said, ‘I know what’s going on but don’t remind me.’ I
said, ‘Ok,’ and realized, wow, this is not somebody denying what’s happening,
this is somebody accepting what’s happening but still maintaining a positive
attitude and making every day count.”

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