Working as a paediatric oncologist is not an easy job, and one has to be passionate about a calling to work with children with cancer.
The Red Cross Children’s Hospital’s Marc Hendricks has found music helps him cope better with the stresses of his job.
Hendricks, who released an album called Upright Citizen in April, said through his music he shares stories inspired by family, stories of his life and working with young patients.
Hendricks, who is also a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, said his music had helped him find ways of remaining connected and open to his patients while not allowing the distress of working with sick and dying children to cause depression and personal burnout.
He said after treating children with complicated medical conditions for many years, he had come to understand the need to connect with his vulnerable patients.
“Working with kids every day means that you are always ready for anything because kids are so delicate but the joy of working with them is fulfilling.
“They have no reservations, when they see you anywhere, they don’t wait to be given permission to enter your space. They come to you to hug you and scream your name, it’s beautiful.”
Because of the nature of his job, Hendricks said he forms long-term relationships with his patients and their families.
“The death of a child still affects me. I have times when I have to go to my office, lock the door and have my moment. But that’s fine, the day a child’s death stops affecting me is the day I would know I need to change my job.”
By fusing his musical talent with his role as a doctor, Hendricks has been able to find a place for art and medicine to co-exist through teaching medical humanities, an online course done through UCT’s Future Learn programme.
With the course, Hendricks is able to take the students through the experience of being a child, which helps them understand their patients better.
Hendricks said while his job is to care for the sick, from time to time he also needs to “take care of myself and my wellbeing, because while you are taking care of others, you can easily neglect taking care of yourself and emotions”.
His passion for music has helped him balance his private life with his daily work.
In one of his teaching exercises Hendricks uses a song, My Song for the Living, which was taken from the production called Uhambo.
The production is about a journey made by parents and their unwell child from the country to Red Cross to seek help.
He said the song is about a child’s plea to be seen, heard and recognised.
Hendricks’s love of music dates back to when he was a toddler.
“My parents and my older sisters have great singing voices. We would sing in three-part harmony while doing the dishes, we all learned our musical chops in church.”
Despite his love for music and medicine, neither was his first choice of career, “which goes to show just how little you know about anything when you have just matriculated”.
He always wanted to be a vet because he was obsessed with animals.
But by “mistake” he chose medicine after he left school .
His album has been used to raise funds for life-changing initiatives at Red Cross Hospital.