Mary Wiemken

Nov. 16, 2023
A photo of Mary Wiemken.
Mary Wiemken

Wherever Mary Wiemken goes, she wonders to herself, “Is there a piano?”

There was one in the basement of her college dorm, in various places in Spain where she studied abroad, in airports across the country and in the main lobby of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“There’s not a language to music,” said Wiemken, a registered nurse who works in the ICU and medical/surgical units at YVMC. “Music has a way of transporting the musician and the listener at the same time.”

Wiemken began piano lessons as a young child, something “you just did, growing up in the Midwest.”

“My grandmas loved hearing me play. It was hard when I lost them both in eighth grade,” said Wiemken. “I really liked caring for them, and my Grandma Harriet would always tell me, ‘You’ll be a great nurse some day.’”

Grandma Harriet’s comment stuck with Wiemken, especially as she witnessed some of the care her grandma received.

“She spent time in and out of a hospital and in a nursing home for the last four months of her life, progressively getting more confused because of her dementia,” said Wiemken. “The nurses who cared for her weren’t always as kind as we thought they should be. I knew then that I wanted to be a nurse, just like she had foretold, so no one else’s grandma was treated that way. I didn’t think about anything else. I was going to be a nurse.”

She did just that, and as she would visit family friends in nursing homes, just as she had visited her own family, she would inquire about a piano.

A photo of Mary Wiemken
Mary Wiemken playing the piano in the lobby at YVMC.

“I wanted to play for the residents because I know how much the older generations appreciate music,” said Wiemken. “Music can take people back to happy times or fond memories, especially for patients experiencing dementia. It can take them away from what they’re facing for a bit.”

Wiemken plays for the same reasons today. Like other nurses and health care workers, she has her share of busy and stressful days. Playing the piano helps her re-center and ground herself.

“It’s cathartic for me,” she said. “I never used to play in front of people, but then I started to realize that playing not only makes me feel good, but it makes other people happy, too. Music is a beautiful thing to share. I think there’s an exchange of appreciation between those who play and those who listen.”

Whether she’s playing Moonlight Sonata or Prelude in G Major, she now plays by ear and by memory.

“Reading music and playing at the same time caused a disconnect, whereas if I can memorize the music, I can really lose myself in the song and get into a flow state,” said Wiemken.

She used to only play during lunch breaks on the weekends, when the hospital lobby was traditionally empty. Over time, she’s become more comfortable playing when there are patients or visitors around.

“Playing makes me smile, and if I can help someone else smile, that’s even better,” said Wiemken. “I think about Grandma Harriet from time to time when I play, and I hope she’s smiling, too.”

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About the author

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She has spent the last ten years working in marketing and communications in health care, an industry she never considered but one to which she's contributed through her work in media relations, executive messaging and internal communications. She considers it an honor to interact with patients and write about their experiences; it’s what keeps her coming back to work each day.

A native of Nebraska, Lindsey received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a focus on public relations, from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University – she bleeds purple.

She could see a Broadway musical every week, is a huge animal lover, enjoys a good shopping trip, and likes spending time in the kitchen. Lindsey and her husband have two daughters and enjoy hiking in the summer and skiing all winter long.