Spring 2011 Issue | By Andrew Taylor
HOW AN ISU STUDENT IS WORKING PAST LOSING TWO FINGERS
It's sometimes a great disappointment for Idaho State University student pianist Derek Schaible when he reaches to play a key with the four or fifth finger of his right hand.
Both were blown off of his hand on Jan. 16 when the ISU senior was trying to fire marshmallows out of a homemade spud gun outside of his 13th Street apartment in Pocatello.
"I was trying to play at being a scientist, when I should have been being a musician," the 22-year-old said recently, following his comment with a grim laugh, as he recounted his lapse in judgment, which was chronicled in newspapers near and far. "I had done it years and years ago, and just tried it again."
His first thought after the maiming explosion, which also shot a piece of metal shrapnel through his right leg, was that he may never play piano again, an activity that is a fabric of his life, something he has done since age 5 and is as natural for him "as eating or breathing."
"I was devastated," Schaible said. "It was difficult for it to soak in when it happened because I instantly went into a dream state and I was just looking at the bloody stump of my hand where my fingers used to be, hoping I would just bleed to death because I would never play again."
Since the accident, however, Schaible has been able to play piano again, which, along with the support he's received from a network of people, including his professors at Idaho State University, is helping him recover and cope in the aftermath of the accident. "My teacher, Kori Bond, says that it doesn't matter if I have blown off my hand, I can still have a career in music. She's helped me with my schedule and is still teaching and encouraging me," Schaible said.
Immediately following the accident he spent five days in the hospital, where about "the only thing on my mind was playing the piano again," he noted. After leaving the hospital, he moved back in with his parents in their Idaho Falls home. When interviewed in late February, he was walking with a cane, and had a thick roll of bandages on his right hand, the white bandages accentuating the remaining thumb and two fingers on his right hand. Weeks after the accident, the pain was still great, both physically and emotionally, despite the use of pain medications.
"The phantom pain is so killing," he said. "You'd think it would be like a dull throb or something, but it is like slamming my lost fingers in the door over and over again."
There was also the dull, consistent pain in his leg, and the accompanying physical therapy to treat that wound.
Without a wide network of support, Schaible said he doubted he would have been able to cope. First, there was his neighbor, Paul Dial, that Schaible credits for saving his life by responding immediately to the accident and getting help. His family, friends, and church congregation (he is the church organist and pianist), all have offered him strong support and encouragement.
"All the support I've received is the big reason I can stay positive and it is not an easy thing to stay positive through all of this," Schaible said. "I've even received support from outside the community from people I don't even know, who are sending me their letters and prayers."
He's received important support from his ISU teachers and bandmates as well.
"Patrick Brooks (ISU director of bands) and Patrick Nelson (Jazz Band I bassist)," he continued, "were among the first people who visited me in the hospital. It kind of shows how close we are in music ensembles."
After receiving the encouragement and care from his support group, Schaible tried playing the piano again about three weeks after the accident, with his right hand still in splint. He chose some Chopin preludes.
"I found some of the simpler ones that have a singular melody you can play with your right hand with the left accompanying," he said. "I was able to pull off the melody pretty well with my thumb and forefinger and I could play the accompaniment well with my left."
Since that initial try, he has experienced increased flexibility in his middle finger on his right hand and he has expanded his repertoire of music and has played with the ISU Jazz Bands and for his church's congregation. He hopes eventually to play some solo shows.
He's also found that playing music is therapeutic both emotionally and physically.
"When I am playing piano it is one of the only times I do not feel pain in my right hand," he said. "It is one of the few things I can do to escape the constant physical pain."
Following the accident he had to drop from 12 credits to six, but he hoped to graduate with a bachelor's degree in music performance in December. After that he plans to attend graduate school and study music composition and conducting.
"Derek is fortunate that he has so many skills besides playing classical piano music with which to build a distinctive musical career," said Bond, Schaible's piano teacher. "He's an experienced player of jazz, a style of music that allows him to improvise his own parts that make use of his eight remaining fingers. Because he is also a good composer and arranger, he is adapting other types of music, including classical piano pieces and church hymns, to accommodate his new anatomy. Most of all, he is creative, clever, and good humored-all characteristics that will facilitate his ability to move on and be successful."
Schaible plans to continue towards his dream.
"Since I still have some fingers left, I'll definitely make use of them playing piano," Schaible said.