I heard this Beatles song yesterday for the first time in quite a while, and it instantly brought me back to the year 1967. In June of that year, I entered Children’s Hospital in Boston to have a spinal fusion to correct scoliosis. I spent the whole summer there having surgery and other treatment, and was sent home in a body cast to spend the next four months in bed, and then returned to the hospital the first week of January to have the cast removed and another one put on — this one was shoulders to hips, but at least I could get out of bed and walk with it. A few months later, I was back in the hospital to have that cast removed, and to get a brace which I had to wear 23 hours a day, and gradually fewer hours until I was finally free, over a year after the actual surgery.
Strawberry Fields was very popular that year, and I remember it as part of the soundtrack of the hospital, along with Red Sox games on the radio and the endless “Paging Doctor So-and-So” announcements on the PA. I heard Strawberry Fields drifting in and out of rooms as I was wheeled down the hall on a gurney going back and forth for various tests and treatments. It was the first thing I remember hearing when I was coming out of the anesthesia after surgery. I wasn’t sure if I were dead or alive, awake or sleeping, and I remember just floating along with the song for a minute or so until I heard someone ask if anyone knew the score and I knew I was alive and awake. 1967 was a big year for the Red Sox, and the whole hospital staff seemed to be listening to every game. The hospital is close to Fenway Park, so for home games you could practically hear the cheering crowds and people were always joking about possibility of a home run ball coming through the window and knocking someone out.
The psychedelic dreaminess of Strawberry Fields seemed perfectly suited to the hospital, where we were having our own drug experiences, though not by choice. Even when the song wasn’t actually playing, I used to hear it in my mind, intentionally replaying it over and over, drifting along in my mind’s own music video.
I’d close my eyes and send myself far away.
“Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me”
One thing I learned at Children’s Hospital was how to deal with medical treatment and many other problems in life: Just do what needs to be done, and don’t ever complain or feel sorry for yourself. I was in an orthopedic unit, and we knew we were lucky, because although we lived in all sorts of casts and braces and traction, we weren’t actually sick and were unlikely to die from our conditions. We were aware of other units of the hospital, filled with children and teenagers with much more serious conditions.
So I tried to make the best of things, and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d distract myself. Strawberry Fields was perfect for this, filling my mind with music and beautiful images. Music is still my first choice for managing pain, anxiety and depression, and it really helps. For that, I’d like to thank The Beatles and Children’s Hospital.
Also Apple, because when I got my first iPod I started creating custom playlists that really help me cheer myself up, calm myself down, or otherwise keep myself moving forward!