A Story of Survival
How Playing Karimba Saved a Man's Life

Karimba

Rick was one of Kalimba Magic's first customers, purchasing a few kalimbas, books, and an African tuned karimba in the first few years of operation. A few years went by without hearing from Rick, but a year ago I got one of my own Kalimba Magic postcards in the mail. It was handwritten from Rick.

He told me of how he had had both a heart attack and a stroke, and had been in a coma for five weeks. Towards the end of his coma, he became aware of the people in the room with him. He knew his brother was there, and he also knew the doctor was speaking of the diminished hope remaining in Rick's unresponsive condition. The doctor was indicating that it was time to accept that Rick would probably be in an unresponsive vegetative state for the rest of his life, but Rick's brother would have none of it. While the doctor and nurse were out of the room, Rick's brother put an Alto Kalimba into Rick's hands... Rick hesitantly played a note - or did his thumb just slip off the tine?

Rick's postcard told me the story of what happened next. He could hear what was going on, but couldn't say a word or move a finger. But when his brother next placed the African karimba in his hands, he was able to move his thumbs and play several notes back and forth in a left-right pattern.

Rick's brother ran and got the nurse and the doctor, and Rick continued to play on the karimba. This was his way of saying "I AM HERE!" even though his voice and the rest of his body could not say a word. This was the end of the talk about a persistent vegetative state, and the beginning of Rick's long recovery.


Two vs Three
Two vs. Three Patterns from the book Playing the African Tuned Karimba.
The skinny gray columns in the tablature represent the bent upper row of tines.
Click on image for PDF.

Several weeks and much rehab later, Rick felt he was ready to return home, but the speech therapist was pushing for Rick to stay as an inpatient for another eight weeks. With the therapists present, Rick performed a two against three pattern on the African karimba that he had learned from the Playing the African Tuned Karimba book he had purchased from Kalimba Magic years earlier. He also gave a talk about how African music is put together with rhythmic complexity and melodic variations built on a cyclic chord progression. One of the physical therapists picked up the karimba and tried to reproduce the two against three pattern Rick had just performed, and said something like "Well, I can't do that! I guess you are ahead of me, and I guess you are ready to go home." And so he did.

Rick's advice to me and to the Kalimba World: "When you are around someone in a coma, be aware that they might well be able to hear and understand everything you are saying. Often while I was in my coma, I would come up near the surface and I was taking it all in... and then I would dive back down into the depths again. Mark, when you are with someone in a coma, just play your kalimba for them - they will hear it."

Thank you, Rick. Thank you for sharing. I will remember your words always. - Mark


By the way, the African Tuned Karimba is an ancient note layout with a reportoire of possibly ancient African music, but it is also the starting instrument for the SaReGaMa Lotus Kalimba.