• Each day’s coronavirus update in the US has offered up one record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases after another.
  • There’s humanity behind each one of those cases and each one of those coronavirus numbers, something it can be easy to forget at times amid the news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This is the story of one coronavirus patient in one hospital in one Utah town, who decided to use his musical talent to thank the hospital workers.

It’s surely escaped no one’s attention by now that each day’s coronavirus update, at least for those of us in the US, is a relentless drumbeat of nauseatingly depressing news, as the country seems to set one new sickening record after another that shatters the previous daily high in new cases. With a week to go before Thanksgiving, here’s how bad things have gotten: The seven-day average of daily new cases in the US stands at a little more than 161,000, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

You see those numbers often enough, and you start to become numb to the fact that they aren’t just numbers alone. It’s more correct to think of them as placeholders — numeric stand-ins for all the Americans who’ve become infected by a virus rampaging across the country, absent component governance that you’d assume would have had an interest in not letting a pandemic spread like wildfire. The people behind those numbers include Americans like Grover Wilhelmsen, who was sidelined for more than a month by a coronavirus infection that sent him to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah. Who is Grover Wilhelmsen, you might ask? According to an NBC News account of his hospital stay, nurse Matt Harper described him as “a small light in the darkness of the COVID.”


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You can see for yourself in the video below what led the nurse to say that — and to declare that caring for this retired orchestra teacher is one of the best experiences he’s ever had while working in the ICU.

At one point during Wilhelmsen’s stay, he had to be intubated because of his COVID-19 infection. That meant he wasn’t able to speak and had to communicate with health care workers around him in writing.

To Ciara Sase, one of his nurses, Wilhelmsen eventually wrote that he wanted someone to bring him his violin, so he could play some music to cheer up the hospital staff. Sase connected with Wilhelmsen’s wife of almost 50 years to get the instrument brought into the hospital. Doctors agreed that if Sase stayed in his room to monitor his vitals, then Wilhelmsen could play his impromptu concert for hospital employees. So that’s exactly what he did — sitting up in his hospital bed, connected to machines, ignoring his coronavirus infection.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Sase said, according to a press release from Intermountain Healthcare. “For all the staff to see a patient doing this while intubated was unbelievable. Even though he was so sick, he was still able to push through. You could see how much it meant to him. Playing kind of helped to soothe his nerves and brought him back to the moment.”

Wilhelmsen ended up playing his violin for hospital staff over the course of a couple of days. He played songs like Tennessee Waltz, as well as church hymns. The hospital says he was recently discharged from the ICU to a long-term care facility, and he’s he’s expected to make a full recovery from COVID-19.

“It was honestly shocking to be there when he picked up the violin,” Harper said. “It felt like I was in a dream. I’m used to patients being miserable or sedated while being intubated, but Grover made an unfortunate situation into something positive.”

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.