Bridget Ravis grew up in Richland Center, where she spent her summers performing musical theater with the Community Players of Southwest Wisconsin.
Now the 26-year-old UW Hospital nurse finds herself singing to patients if she discovers they share her passion for show tunes, and if she feels it might brighten their day.
Because of patient privacy, Ravis can’t go into great detail about treating patients, but she recently heard from a patient in her 20s whom she cheered up with her singing.
Her team was trying to control the patient’s pain with medication and deep breathing exercises, Ravis said. They ran different tests to see if they could identify a physiological reason for her pain, and came up short.
“We were not quite getting her comfortable the way that she wanted to be. So she could leave the hospital and live her life,” Ravis said.
Ravis worked with her for a couple of days and got to know her and her family. In taking “cues from around the room,” she noticed the patient was reading a book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical “Hamilton.”
So, she asked the patient if she liked musicals and found the patient had been a theater major, but because of her health conditions, had to leave school.
“She was grieving and experiencing this loss of not being able to go to school, compounded by this pain that we were not controlling well,” Ravis said.
The patient was upset and frustrated by her pain, and Ravis said she didn’t know what else to do. That’s when she asked the patient if she could sing for her.
She didn’t know any songs from “Hamilton,” but asked the patient if she knew any classic show tunes. She wound up singing her “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady.”
“Just a couple weeks ago, I got a message. She had sent in a message to UW and talked about how just being present with her and singing with her helped,” Ravis said. “I mean, even if we weren’t able to completely control her pain, meeting her on that level and being present with her really made a difference.”
Ravis earned an associate degree from UW-Platteville Richland with an emphasis in theater and pre-nursing. She later transferred to UW-Madison’s School of Nursing to obtain her nursing degree. She’s worked at UW Hospital for 3 1/2 years.
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Next Saturday is a big day for Ravis, who is marrying her fiancé, Donald Hart, at the Masonic Center in Downtown Madison. The two met while acting together and chose the Masonic Center because of its theater space. They plan to be married on stage.
What type of nursing do you do?
I work on a unit that takes care of patients who have cancer, so oncology, blood cancers or blood disorders, hematology and then palliative or comfort care. Generally, that population is near the end of their life. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
So you see a lot of death.
Yes. It’s interesting to describe my job to friends and family. Immediately they always go, “Oh, that’s so sad. I’m so sorry that you do that job.” Or, “Wow, I could never do that job.” It’s interesting developing a different perspective on death. In my field, it almost seems more natural. And one of my jobs is primarily as a palliative care nurse ... promoting comfort at the end of life and finding ways that we can make the time that my patients have left meaningful to them.
I can see that. That’s important, meaningful work.
I’ll tell you what, I think I’ve gotten a lot more out of my job than I’ve ever given to any of my patients. I see some of the strongest, most beautiful people in the entire world every single day, and I get to take care of them. And that’s really a blessing to me.
I learned about you because my friend’s mom was a patient of yours and she was delighted when you started singing to her from “The Sound of Music.” Is that something you do regularly or was that just particular to that patient because of the way your conversation went?
So my job really is to meet patients where they’re at emotionally. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the (Elisabeth) Kubler-Ross method of grieving, or the stages of grieving. So, you go through denial, anger, depression. And figuring out where people are at, and then how I can best serve them in that stage, is really important to their entire treatment process. So, some people may be in that depression stage and they just need something to help them feel better. And that’s when I feel more comfortable singing to them, versus sometimes people may be angry and it’s my job just to be empathetic and say, “Yeah, it’s OK to be angry about this.” I mean, cancer is something you can be angry about.
How often do you find yourself singing to patients? Is it something that’s rare or something that happens every day? Every week? Every month?
It’s so hard to predict because sometimes I’ll find a patient who loves musical theater and is really excited to hear me sing and then I’ll sing to them. Other times, I’ll go a couple of months without finding anyone who I think is appropriate to sing to, because the space that they’re in is sacred to them, if that makes any sense at all. And my only job is to meet them in the space they’re in.
Your friend, like you mentioned, I remember specifically how she was pretty anxious being in the hospital, as most people are. And I remember her family saying, we have musicals on because she loves musicals. And that just makes her so happy. And I thought, “Oh, OK, this is a good way for me to help her.” Because, I mean, what’s better than a live performance, right?