Father does chest compressions for infant child with cystic fibrosis. Musical notes, a couch, and a plant are in the background.

Musical Chest PT for CF, or How I Bond with My Son

Although not by design, music – singing, really – has played a big role in my relationship with my children.

Singing or playing music for children to soothe and connect with them is obviously not a novel idea. However, it is something I quickly embraced.

Building a fun, healthy routine with my son

When my oldest son, who does not have cystic fibrosis, was born, I would play the same handful of songs (for some reason, “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox and the “Happy Days” theme song always worked like a charm) to stop him from crying and sing the same few songs to get him to go to sleep.

Just a couple of years later, I still sing those same songs – plus a growing mental library of others – when helping him go to sleep. He’s never been a great sleeper, and singing to him has always soothed the savage toddler.

In addition to feeling mildly accomplished about temporarily vanquishing the beast that is a toddler fighting sleep, I’m so happy that it has become an important part of our relationship. We sing songs together. He’s even begun to make up his own songs and make up his own lyrics to existing songs.

Integrating music into chest PT for CF

Obviously, no two children are ever the same. For whatever reason, our younger son, who has CF, has always been an amazing sleeper. In many ways, he’s that dream child that you can put down in his crib while his eyes are still open and know he’ll just fall asleep without much fuss. Neither my wife nor I will ever complain about that.

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However, I was worried fairly early on about not being able to be bond with him the same way – a way that I love and seems to bring comfort and ease to my older son. That concern might be minimal in the grand scheme of things. However, with the sometimes cold and clinical nature of managing our son’s CF – giving him countless medicine, pounding on his chest multiple times a day, getting him to consume all of his food within an enzymes-friendly timeframe – that desire to comfort and connect is amplified.

Doing chest PT is a great time to bond

Fortunately, I have found airway clearance and chest PT to be the perfect time to bond with my younger son while incorporating that music component. I typically take the nighttime treatments, while my wife handles the morning. Any parent of a baby with CF will tell you that treatment – which is pre-vest and all manual at this point – gets more difficult as that baby gets older, stronger and more stubborn about sitting or lying for an extended amount of time, regardless of the situation.

There is no better feeling to me than feeling his body relax as I start to sing. Sometimes he calms down in recognition of a song. Sometimes he nods off to sleep. Hey, sometimes he even dances a little bit.

It’s important with any child to establish a routine, and I’ve tried to establish a routine in how I incorporate songs into his treatments. When he needs to use a nebulizer, I stick to existing (read: real) songs that he seems to like.

Making up songs to jive with therapy

On the other hand, during chest PT/airway clearance, I like to sing songs that I’ve made up (we make up a lot of songs in our house). Because I’ve made them up, they’re easier to fit into nice little two-minute increments for the various lobes, and they more easily mesh with the rhythm of my hand percussion.

As he becomes more familiar with all of the different songs, which are typically reserved for specific lobes, it has become easier to get him to relax his body (and, of course, get through the treatment without much crying). And although this is much less of a priority, it also makes me enjoy treatment a little more.

I’ve read and heard about parents cherishing treatment time with their kids who have CF because, after a full workday, it can be difficult to find time to bond with them. After a year – and many made-up songs – I fully understand that.

I cherish those moments when, even while percussing his chest and effectively stopping him from being able to play or crawl around as he pleases for a period of time, I’m able to sing to him, feel his body relax and know that we’re connecting in a very special way.

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