In 1982, I went to my first concert. It was Rush, on their “Signals” tour, and I loved it. In fact, I went back and saw them again about a year later. I bought a concert T-shirt at the first one. I still have it somewhere, though I am pretty sure it hasn’t fit me in years.
I loved their music before the concert, enjoyed it even more afterwards, and still do. Their albums are all on my computer and phone, and part of the daily soundtrack of my life when working at my desk, driving, and walking (I’m trying to fit back in the shirt).
On Jan. 7, 2020, Neil Peart, the trio’s remarkably gifted drummer, died of a neurologic disease.
According to the news, he had a glioblastoma multiforme, a tumor terrifying for its aggressiveness, difficulty of treatment, and lack of preventable risk factors.
The cost of neurologic disease is terrible. Glioblastoma multiforme, unfortunately, is far from rare, nor is it the only one. In recent times, entertainers afflicted with neurologic disease have included Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Falk, Glen Campbell, Charlton Heston, Gene Siskel, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Hillenburg, Teri Garr, Annette Funicello, Robin Williams, Dudley Moore, and most recently Ozzy Osbourne.
That’s a pretty short list, too, far from all-encompassing. The majority of people with these disorders won’t be in the news. Their everyday struggles, stories, and losses are known only to family, friends, and the medical team doing its best to help.
Medical technology advances every year. In the 22 years since I began practicing, we’ve made remarkable strides in some areas – multiple sclerosis, for example. But our work in so many other areas is nowhere close. The increasing knowledge as to the mechanisms and causes of Alzheimer’s disease have, to date, failed to translate into treatment success.
That’s not to say we should give up. Far from it. Our species has gotten where we are by always wanting to get over the next hill. Initial failures will always outnumber successes. But when you’re a doctor dealing with the very real human cost of neurologic disease, that’s not much consolation. And it’s far less so for the patients and families affected who come to us for help.
We use terms like “burden” or “cost” to discuss the financial aspects of illness, but they often don’t seem adequate to describe the real effects. The emotional damages. The gifted musicians and loved family members lost. Family members struggling with the difficult role of being care givers.
Neurologic disease doesn’t discriminate against anyone, regardless of age, fame, or talent. I’ll stay here and do my best for all of them who come to me. I’m certainly not on the front line of research. That’s incredibly important, but I’ll leave it to others. My work is where the patients are every day.
Thank you for the music, Neil.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.