Like many in the health care field, I have found it hard to watch the news over these past couple of months when it seems that almost every story is about COVID-19 or its repercussions. Luckily, I have two young daughters who “encourage” me to listen to the Frozen 2 soundtrack instead of putting on the evening news when I get home from work. Still, news manages to seep through my defenses. As I scrolled through some headlines recently, I learned of the death of musician Adam Schlesinger from COVID-19. He wasn’t a household name, but his death still hit me in unexpected ways.
I started internship in late June 2005, in a city (Portland, Ore.) about as different from my previous home (Dallas) as any two places can possibly be. I think the day before internship started still ranks as the most nervous of my life. I’m not sure how I slept at all that night, but somehow I did and arrived at the Portland Veterans Affairs Hospital the following morning to start my new career.
And then … nothing happened. Early on that first day, the electronic medical records crashed, and no patients were admitted during our time on “short call.” My upper level resident took care of the one or two established patients on the team (both discharged), so I ended the day with records that would not be broken during the remainder of my residency: 0 notes written, 0 patients seen. Perhaps the most successful first day that any intern, anywhere has ever had, although it prepared me quite poorly for all the subsequent days.
Since I had some time on my hands, I made the 20-minute walk to one of my new hometown’s record stores where Fountains of Wayne (FOW) was playing an acoustic in-store set. Their album from a few years prior, “Welcome Interstate Managers,” was in heavy rotation when I made the drive from Dallas to Portland. It was (and is) a great album for long drives – melodic, catchy, and (mostly) up-tempo. Adam and the band’s singer, Chris Collingwood, played several songs that night on the store’s stage. Then they headed out to the next city, and I headed back home and on to many far-busier days of residency.
We would cross paths again a decade later. I moved back to Texas and became a hospitalist. It turns out that, if you have enough hospitalists of a certain age and if enough of those hospitalists have unearned confidence in their musical ability, then a covers band will undoubtedly be formed. And so, it happened here in San Antonio. We were not selective in our song choices – we played songs from every decade of the last 50 years, bands as popular as the Beatles and as indie as the Rentals. And we played some FOW.
Our band (which will go nameless here so that our YouTube recordings are more difficult to find) played a grand total of one gig during our years of intermittent practicing. That one gig was my wedding rehearsal dinner and the penultimate song we played was “Stacy’s Mom,” which is notable for being both FOW’s biggest hit and a completely inappropriate song to play at a wedding rehearsal dinner. The crowd was probably around the same size as the one that had seen Adam and Chris play in Portland 10 years prior. I don’t think the applause we received was quite as genuine or deserved, though.
After Adam and Chris played their gig, there was an autograph session and I took home a signed poster. Last year, I decided to take it out of storage and hang it in my office. The date of the show and the first day of my physician career, a date now nearly 15 years ago, is written in psychedelic typography at the bottom. The store that I went to that day is no longer there, a victim of progress like so many other record stores across the country. Another location of the same store is still open in Portland. I hope that it and all the other small book and music stores across the country can survive this current crisis, but I know that many will not.
So, here’s to you Adam, and to all the others who have lost their lives to this terrible illness. As a small token of remembrance, I’ll be playing some Fountains of Wayne on the drive home tonight. It’s not quite the same as playing it on a cross-country drive, but hopefully, we will all be able to do that again soon.
Dr. Sehgal is a clinical associate professor of medicine in the division of general and hospital medicine at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System and UT-Health San Antonio. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for The Hospitalist.