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And the Band Played On...


On New Year’s Day while most men are engrossed in football, my 89-year-old father was sidelined by bilateral Achilles’ tendon ruptures—a rare complication of Levaquin therapy. Given my father’s age and his likely sedentary lifestyle, the orthopedist embarked upon conservative therapy. My father was disheartened to hear that he would need to have both ankles immobilized for many months, with only minimal weight bearing on one.

He thought that his life was over and became passive and dependent. He did what most people of his generation do in the hospital. He checked his independence at the door. He only did what the doctors or nurses told him to do, never asking to get up in the chair, never venturing outside his room, eating meals in bed unless nursing staff got him up.

A Musical Life

Until hospitalization, he had lived alone with his Brittany Spaniel in a two-story home with the full bath and bedroom on the second floor. He had even given music lessons in the basement. He had driven his car, bought groceries, walked his dog, and had been responsible for his own cooking, laundry, appointments, and medications, including warfarin.

Above: Robert Stroetz conducts an in-hospital trombone lesson.

Music, though, is the passion of his life. As a teenager in the 1930s, he learned to play the trombone by playing along with great players at night in the family car, which “had the best radio.” Later, he rode the train weekly from his home in Appleton, Wis., to Chicago to study with Jerry Chimera, a well-known master, and toured the Midwest with the region’s hottest bands while completing a Bachelor of Music degree at Lawrence University, Appleton, Wis.

At various times, he made a living as freelance trombonist in both New York City and Los Angeles. He was a studio musician with the NBC Orchestra and played lead with many great names, including Les Brown—and his Band of Renown!—and Doris Day during the Big Band Era, before embarking on an academic career. He completed his master’s degree at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) and was a professor of music at universities in Montana and New York before settling in the Midwest to teach band to elementary and secondary students at public schools.

We knew that Mayo hospitalists would support our goal of helping Dad to be as functional as possible. The staff needed to know—and Dad needed a reminder—that he wasn’t a typical 89-year-old.

His personal life was filled with music. He was the principal trombonist with the Rochester (N.Y.) Symphony for 43 years, until macular degeneration made it impossible to continue. He also had an active schedule with a local jazz band, The Turkey River All-Stars, who have played a multitude of venues, both local and national. He has played with the Turkeys on the Delta Queen paddleboat, for four United States presidents, in Branson (Mo.), and at jazz festivals from here to New Orleans.

After “retirement” at age 70, he continued to give private music lessons for up to 42 students a week. At 89 he still gives private music lessons, though he now teaches on a less rigorous schedule with fewer students. When we ask him to tell us about his greatest source of satisfaction, he says, “The greatest achievement of my life was passing on my love of music to my sons. I am especially proud when they play together or Randy gets to play with the Rochester Orchestra.”

Robert Stroetz blows his horn.

Robert Stroetz blows his horn.

Dad’s Rehab

One of my first responsibilities after his hospitalization was to cancel his students’ lessons. One student, though, really needed some help with a piece for a competition. Because there was nothing wrong with Dad except his ankles, we wanted to help make that possible. We knew that Mayo hospitalists would support our goal of helping Dad to be as functional as possible. The staff needed to know—and Dad needed a reminder—that he wasn’t a typical 89-year-old.

My wife and I are both employed in healthcare professions. We knew of an outpatient examination room away from patient care areas that would provide good lighting and privacy. Isaac, a trombone student, brought his horn and his family for a visit. Dad left the floor for the most important hour of his therapy. He gave Isaac a lesson and then delighted us with his rendition of “Black Orpheus.”

After that lesson, he began to speak more positively of returning home. He is currently in a short-term rehabilitation facility for physical and occupational therapy. His goal is to return home after he learns to transfer safely and can navigate with a wheelchair.

Obviously, we have some work to do to prepare. We need to move his bedroom furniture and studio to the main floor. We need to acquire equipment and install grab bars. He may need assistance with dressing, housekeeping, bathing, transportation, and physical therapy for a few months. We are confident that a return home is on the horizon. Anything is possible with the right attitude. TH

Stroetz is a certified respiratory therapist at the Mayo Clinic. Lucinda Stroetz, PA, also contributed to this article.

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