Music Makes the Medicine Go Down

When I was a kid growing up with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (now called juvenile idiopathic arthritis), I spent a lot of time in the car being driven to medical appointments. I grew up in rural upstate New York, and it meant driving 45 minutes to an hour from our home (or school) to various doctors, the blood lab, or physical therapy appointments.

For a long time, I particularly hated Wednesdays because it was the day I had to do my weekly blood test and periodic visits to the rheumatologist. The blood draws were always hard and painful.

Coping with difficult moments through music

Somehow my mother made it bearable and even fun! My mother would leave work early and pick me up from school to make the drive. She would pop in an Elton John tape and sing along while driving us to and fro. Although I remember the painful needle sticks and the anxiety of seeing my very nice rheumatologist (who nonetheless only ever had hard or difficult news for us), the most brilliant, shiny memories are the ones of us bopping along to “Crocodile Rock” as my mother drove us to appointments and back home again.

Finding inspiration

As an adult, my appreciation for Elton John has only deepened as I learned the stories behind his songs and later watched his biopic. Although he has been outstandingly successful, it wasn’t an easy life. He had many challenges, but through it all enjoyed himself and came to embody his full self (sequins, sparkles, and all) with pride. Plus, despite navigating his own obstacles and career, he became a powerful advocate and fundraiser for addressing the AIDS crisis.

A once-in-a-lifetime concert

Last year when I read the news that Elton John would be stopping in my city as part of his final tour, I was so excited and knew I had to go. Despite being a huge fan, I never had the opportunity to see him perform live before. For me, it would be the one and only time to see Elton perform.

As soon as tickets became available, I rushed to get seats (a bit harder since I needed wheelchair-accessible ones). The next challenge was waiting a year and a half for the big day to roll around (and hoping the pandemic didn’t prevent him from touring). Finally, the day came and we took a ride share to the big event held in our local baseball stadium. It was packed with tens of thousands of people, and navigating the crowd was a challenge. I got distracted by all the costumes of the concertgoers—the sequined jumpsuits, the feather boas, the big sparkly glasses. It felt like a huge celebration!

Reminiscing about fond memories

It was an amazing night! When the lights came up and the music started, I remembered those moments of singing with my mother, blaring the music as loud as we could stand, and channeling our joy even through some of the hardest times. It was a glorious mix of sentiment, outlandish joy, and outrageous pride in survival.

Elton reminded me that even in those sad moments and hard times, we can find sweetness and happiness. We can treasure the good times with loved ones. We can rock to silly rhythms and dance the blues away.

Anthems of strength

For me, Elton is also a pillar of strength. “The Bitch Is Back” may be irreverent and self-congratulatory, but when I have recovered from my illnesses and surgeries, it is one of my go-to songs because I’m telling myself that I made it through despite all the challenges. Whenever I get down on myself, I listen to “I’m Still Standing” and am strengthened by the thought that I keep fighting and surviving.

While it wasn’t easy to make the concert trip and get back home in terrible traffic through rowdy crowds, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see Elton John and witness his spectacle. His music has helped me through so many challenging periods of my life along with sparking joy in many other moments, he was the author of the song my husband Richard and I had our first dance to at our wedding (“Your Song”), and still keeps me rocking around the clock. I’ll never forget it and I’ll always crave sequins and sparkles when I need some cheer.

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