With a Little Help From My Friends

This is a great song, both in melody and lyrics. OK, granted, there are two versions. The original version, by the Beatles and sung by Ringo on Sgt. Peppers, is great. You gotta love Ringo, he’s just a kind man who seems to project peace and love for all. And Lennon/McCartney wrote a great song as these always did. But I’m not talking about that version. I’m of the belief that when Joe Cocker covered this tune and played it at Woodstock, it became his own. The arrangement is much different and highlights the raw emotion of his voice. He truly gives everything he has to this song, which is both remarkable and admirable. To see someone literally writhing to and fro with his stanzas is a sight to behold. It is one of the things I love about music, the way it both captures your emotions and allows for their release at the same time. And in that moment, you can feel the artist’s joy and pain, happiness and sadness, all at once.

When I hear Joe Cocker belting “With a little help from my friends,” I think about a particular time in my life. I remember vividly sitting around as a family and watching The Wonder Years, to which this was the theme song. I was probably 10 or so, and we had just moved to Chicago. Moving across the country meant trying to put down roots in all aspects of life. Home life, the neighborhood, school, temple, and of course, the new CF clinic. We had quite the transition when we started going to Children’s Memorial in Chicago. Their philosophies and treatments seemed both different and foreign. Whereas before, I was told to stick to a low fat and high calorie diet, which is really hard by the way, the new clinic wanted me to get as many calories as possible by any means necessary. They recognized that the better our BMI, the more likely we were to be able to ward off infections and exacerbation. There were new meds, new nebulizers, new ideas on how to battle this day to day. And my parents and I had to meet and become co-pilots of this world with a whole new CF team.

And along with that new team, of course, was a new hospital with new inpatient experiences. In New Jersey I only knew a couple of people that I knew with CF. None of them were my age, so we weren’t close. When I was admitted, I might be roomed with adults who have other illness. But at this new hospital Children’s, they made an effort to make children with CF feel as normal as possible. There was an entire floor that was mainly dedicated to CF children, and the nurses made sure that all the kids knew each other. Hell, they threw us in the playroom daily all together so that we would feel like a group. We would stay up late and talk about our lives, play games and sneak around the hospital. We got in trouble quite a few times. I remember one time this girl Jennifer Cherry and I broke into the morgue to check it out. I have know idea why; it was a bad idea and weirded me out to no end, but we did it anyway. There’s so much idle time while you are staying in the hospital that we would do anything to keep busy. But we would do it all as a group of friends.

The CF team even had an overnight camp every year! This was freaking amazing. I had never been to overnight camp because no camp could handle my needs, and as a result my brother never was able to go either. But we both went for a few years in a row, to a camp filled with CF kids and their siblings. Plenty of activities and bad food, late nights and shenanigans. I remember feeling not like an outcast, but just one of the crew. We all had T-shirts with our nicknames on them. There was group treatments morning and night, where all the cystics would do nebulizers and the camp counselors would perform postural drainage. All in the same room! The entire experience was a revelation, and something I always remembered. I kept some of these friends through life, and although sadly most of them have now passed they are still with me. Because I don’t feel alone with this illness.

Now, things are different. With more resistant bacteria, the camps were not allowed to stay open. CF patients were isolated to prevent spreading infection. Most of you may know what it looks like when I’m in the hospital nowadays. Every nurse, tech, RT, MD, or otherwise has to mask/gown/glove-up before entering my room, and any time I want to leave the room I must wear a mask. Patients aren’t encouraged to interact and if they do, must stand at least 6 feet away from each other. But it is frowned upon now, and the only social interaction is online and virtual. And while that is important, and I’ve met many people over the years, it’s not quite the same. Relationships can be fostered through social media but if that is the basis I don’t believe they are as meaningful. There is still something to be said for actual interaction and discussion, the occasional hug. Now I am all for taking precautions and making sure to limit spreading of deadly infections but I still break the rules. I like to see and hang out with a few of my CF friends, most of which I have made in the past several years. And I think that has to be something we do, even if it is considered taboo. People can still hang out, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer. Having friends who go through something you so, because it is so unique and relentless. Because it’s hard to stay positive and upbeat when something perpetually pushes you down. And relying on those closest to you, and those who have gone through it themselves, is critical.

As the song goes “Are you sad because you are on your own? No, I get by with a little help from my friends.” 🙂

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