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Hospital music
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What do you think of when you hear someone use the term "hospital music?" Most folks old enough to remember the Edsel categorize hospital music as the nebulous recordings of standards heard in the waiting rooms of medical offices, in the elevators of skyscrapers, and in many hospitals and office buildings. Many folks absently term the tunes "Muzak," the name of the company which pioneered music in the workplace, though countless other sources now exist. Still, Muzak is heard daily by over 100 million people in more than 350,000 locations, but the company has grown to be much more than just a provider of favorite old tunes recast in a non-offensive format for easy listening.

Funny how thought patterns work, isn't it? When I hear "hospital music" I get a little of that queasy feeling I used to have as a youngster whenever I'd go to a hospital to visit someone who was a patient. Yet whenever I had an urgent, personal need for medical care, there was no queasiness. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to conjure a more soothing and reassuring sight than a hospital coming into view when I need it.

I had good reason to think on hospitals, and music, as this weekend in our neck of the woods approached. Last night marked the 2008 Annual Spring Gala, hosted by the Newton Medical Center Auxiliary. The event took place at a lovely estate built by the late Bob Williams and his wife, Esther. Willoaks is situated on 100 acres overlooking the Lake Varner reservoir, where last evening guests enjoyed dining and dancing to a different sort of hospital music, served up by the Moon Dance Band, as they helped advance medical care in our community.

For more than 30 years the Auxiliary has been raising monies toward the purchase of vital medical equipment to upgrade what was once a simple aid station - an outgrowth of the mid-20th century Hill-Burton Hospital Act.

For newcomers to the area, or for folks just passing through, or for those of us who have been here for a while but have just never really gotten involved or looked into the workings of the Newton Medical Center Auxiliary, let me give you a very brief, incomplete look at just one element which makes life in this place so special.

Many, many towns throughout America benefited from the Hill-Burton Act in the 1940s. My hometown of Greensboro, Ga., had a Hill-Burton hospital, too. The Hill-Burton Act brought the physical buildings we know as hospitals to hamlets all across our nation, but it was up to the individual towns to make them into whatever beyond that they were to become. Some towns had more resources, or a larger vision, or more capable physicians, and their hospitals were nurtured, and grew. Others simply did not become much more than first-aid centers for those who could not get to a big city hospital.

Folks in our neck of the woods decided, long ago, to make our Hill-Burton hospital something special. And, to cut to the chase, all one has to do is to visit what is now known as the Newton Medical Center to see what I mean.

For my money, pound for pound and inch for inch, you won't find better medical facilities nor a finer medical community in any similarly sized place in these United States. The Newton Medical Center Board of Directors, chaired by Pete Knox, never rests in the quest to sustain excellent care while upgrading with fiscal responsibility. And if there's a finer Hospital Administrator anywhere than Jim Weadick, you'll have to show him to me.

Working behind the scenes is the Newton Medical Center Auxiliary Board of Directors. Claudette Desrochers is concluding her term as the current President. The Director of Volunteer Services, celebrating 25 years of service to our community in that role, is Martha Taylor.

The Annual Spring Gala has become a much-anticipated event, as the site changes yearly, and everyone who has attended waits to see if, and how, the next year's festivities could possibly top the current edition. This year's Gala Committee was chaired by Auxiliary President-elect Michelle Green, and included Val Hampton, Amy Larimer, Heather King, Wendi Martinez and Tonya Coe as well as President Desrouchers and Esther Williams.

How big a deal the Annual Gala is can be measured by a quick look back at just a few of the Auxiliary's achievements. Starting in 1970, the Auxiliary set annual goals for the purchase of new, state-of-the-art medical equipment for the hospital. In 1970 the result was a CPR crash cart, standard equipment today, but cutting-edge 38 years ago. In 1988 an Endoscopy Laboratory was built, and in 1995 anesthesia systems were purchased. 2003 saw the completion of the Women's Diagnostic Center.

The current goal for the Auxiliary is paying off state-of-the-art, 100 percent digital mammography for the Women's Diagnostic Center. This equipment is found in only 11 percent of the hospitals in America, and we have it here. It costs a cool half-million bucks, and over the last two years the Auxiliary has covered more than half of that. This year's goal was to complete the purchase with the proceeds from the Annual Gala.

Many of us, obviously, were not able to attend the shindig last night. But it's possible that you may want to contribute to the Auxiliary's cause, which benefits every one of us, males as well as females. And while you're considering that proposal, I'll share a quick story with you.

About 15 or so years ago I was showering and felt a lump under my left nipple. Naturally, I took the following action: for the next three days I avoided touching that area when in the shower, meanwhile repeating those five most deadly words: "maybe it will go away."

Well, the lump didn't go away. When I finally summoned the nerve to tell my doctor, I learned that a significant percentage of all annual breast cancer deaths are males. Over the years since then, television personality Montel Williams underwent a radical mastectomy and called national attention to the fact that males as well as females can, and do, develop breast cancer.

So, to get back to the point, there may be many of us who would like to contribute to the purchase of this digital mammography equipment and to help the Newton Medical Auxiliary pay it off. If so, you can make your tax-deductible check out to the Auxiliary, which is a 501(c) charitable organization, and mail it to them at 5126 Hospital Drive, NE, Covington, GA 30014.

Now that would be some sweet hospital music, indeed.

And speaking of music, have I got a sweet deal for you. If you missed last night's Annual Gala, you won't want to miss tomorrow night's Spring Concert by the Community Band. The concert is free to the public and will be held Monday night in the auditorium at Eastside High School at 7:30 pm.

The band is conducted by a soft-spoken, quiet gentleman who retired as a music educator a few years back, Mr. T. K. Adams. Music was such an important part of his life that he's found a way to keep on sharing the music with his community.

The Community Band numbers about 55 players ranging in age from 17 to 80. The ranks include no fewer than seven band directors, and there's a nucleus of folks who have been along for the entire journey since the band formed some 15 years ago.

Monday night's concert program includes a Mass, a movement from Haydn's First Symphony, a Sousa march and several more intriguing numbers. The concert will also feature a performance by Charles Harris, Benny Stephens, Charles Griffin and Gerry Brell, who comprise a saxophone quartet which has, of late, been visiting and performing for area schools.

Looking back to when I was a kid, one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was getting interested in band. Band got me through high school, helped me through the darkest days after my dad died when I was 17, and sustained me while I was in college. Band allowed me to bring music more intelligently into the lives of our children, and has made this life more enjoyable. So I know, from personal experience, the joy which comes from making music in a large ensemble.

That's what the Community Band is all about: enjoyment.

I'm already looking forward to the 2009 Annual Spring Gala which the Newton Medical Auxiliary is undoubtedly already starting to plan. And while thinking of the contribution to the betterment of our entire community made by that wonderful group of folks, I'll also be looking forward to seeing as many of you as will join me Monday night at Eastside High for the Spring Concert of our very own Community Band.

Standing room only? That would be sweet music, indeed.

Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.