The basement radiation oncology unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, does not look like the usual home of rock'n roll. U2 played on the speakers every day of business for nearly seven weeks at my request.
I first became a U2 fan in the 1980s. I have been to nine concerts and I'm not a superfan. As a teen, I can remember listening to the Joshua Tree album on my staticky radio. The carefully crafted music builds into anthems and the lyrics explore weighty, but personal, themes like love and faith.
In the 90s, I watched the mesmerising Zoo TV Tour in New Jersey from the nosebleeds of the old Giants Stadium. Amy and I danced together to In a Little While during our wedding. The group has in many ways provided the soundtrack for my life.
This importance was heightened in summer 2022 when I developed a benign tumor the size of an orange near my pituitary. After removing it with surgery, I developed a rare bleeding problem that kept me in intensive care. Five units of blood and emergency transport were required to save my life.
A small amount of tumour is still present, even though my complication has (thankfully) begun to heal. I completed a 30-session cycle of radiation in March to prevent the mass from growing. My medical drama resulted in dozens of visits to Mount Sinai. It also gave me many opportunities to ask for U2.
Music can help patients relax and remain still. Radiation technicians at Mount Sinai say that classical or meditative music is a popular choice. My choice was slightly different.
The first part was, of course, escape. For weeks on end, at every treatment I would change into a gown and lay on a bed with a mesh plastic mask on my head. This was to make sure I didn't move or flutter. The MRIs demanded that I remain completely still for 35 minutes or longer.
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It was especially helpful in the later stages of radiation therapy, when the routine had become more difficult to endure.
The steady bass
Larry Mullen Jnr's
Crisp drums and other sounds
Ringing guitars was my main focus. U2's music brought back memories of my time away from the clinic: a trip to high school (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For), an experience in college (One), or a visit to another city.
Music also had a practical purpose. U2's songs are usually around four minutes in length. This knowledge enabled me to estimate the amount of treatment that was left. Radiation usually took me 20 minutes or about four to five U2 tracks. MRIs lasted about eight songs.
When I first had my MRI, which started my medical journey, I didn't know that music could be an option. The MRI took a long time to complete, as I remained still and silent while the machine heated up. It also emitted loud crackles and beeps. At my second scan, I inquired about audiobooks and music. A technician confirmed that Spotify was available. My U2 treatment was born.
On my numerous trips to Mount Sinai, I've heard random music from the five-decade catalog of the band. I sometimes reframed songs to fit my current circumstances. Stories for Boys (1980), made me think about my son, who was six years old at the time. I wanted to be able to raise him for a longer period of time. Kite (2000) and Ultraviolet (1991) made me think of my daughter, who is 11 years old. Every Breaking Wave (2014, a song about a wave breaking) transported me to the beach. With or Without you (1987) was the most popular, evoking a feeling of a friend walking into a room.
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Spotify occasionally sends me a song I've never heard before. It is usually a B side or a dance version. How many times has the band rearranged Mysterious Ways? The technicians accidentally played a karaoke album of U2 without words during my fifth MRI. The songs were close enough to the original, but not better.
What song brought you the most relief during your treatment? Where the Streets have no name. The song's ethereal guitar, organ and racing beat conjures up images of speeding along an empty desert highway. The opposite of lying on a hospital bed.
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The small things that make a difference in our lives can accumulate and surprise us when we least expect them. My wife in particular. U2 is one of them. This article was originally published in
The New York Times