She looked terrified.
Falk quietly offered her comfort - talking, praying, even singing. Nothing seemed to calm or relax this patient.
Looking for something, anything, to help ease this woman's anxiety, Falk pulled out a harmonica she carried in her pocket. She began to play "Shenandoah" and variations of that simple, soothing tune. Within minutes, the patient's breathing became slow and steady, her face relaxed and her eyes closed.
The phone rang and Falk answered, ending the call as quickly as possible. When she turned back to her patient, she saw that she had died.
Virginia Falk is a music practitioner, one who plays live therapeutic music to bring comfort to the dying and create a healing environment for the sick. While her work is relatively new to the medical field, the concept has been around for centuries.
"We can trace live music at the bedside of the sick back to Plato's time," Falk said.
However, it's only in the past 30 years or so that music practitioners have been found on staff at hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and other places that care for those who are ill.
For Falk, the revelation that music can not only comfort the dying, but also promote a environment conducive to healing, took her on a new career path at an age when many look at retiring.
Music has been part of Falk's life since childhood. She has a natural gift for hearing a tune and repeating it. From childhood, she sang and played a variety of instruments. She continues to learn new music and new instruments, including a lap harp which she learned after deciding to become a music practitioner.
As an adult, she became a Catholic nun with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. She spent the next 30 years overseas teaching English to children.
"I taught English, but I always taught music, too," she said.
In the 1960s, when she learned to play the harmonica, the portable instrument became a constant companion. Carried in her pocket, it was a useful tool for keeping the attention of children, as well as enhancing her personal teaching style.
After returning to the United States, she worked in a Florida hospital as a chaplain. While there, she discovered the Music for Healing and Transition Program, a certifying program for music practitioners. The program incorporates classes, internships and mentoring to train practitioners.
While music practitioners are called on to play for people of all ages who are ill, Falk found her calling at the bedside of the dying.
"I'm a privileged person who goes to the bedside of the sick and dying and gives a gift of music. I receive gifts that are more precious than any I give," she said.
Recently, Falk spent time with longtime hospice patient Donna Landers. Landers sat on her bed as Falk played the mellow, gentle sound of the harp and then the reedy, soulful sounds of her harmonica. Falk also sang for her in a voice with clarity and sincerity.
"How could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful," Falk sang.
While the music played over the beeps and gurgling of machines, Landers laid back on her bed and wiped tears from her eyes. She asked for one of Falk's most requested songs, "Amazing Grace."
They sang the familiar words together.
"I don't get to go to church anymore," Landers said. "That was just beautiful and I didn't have to go anywhere to listen to you. I feel very special."