by Ian Whitcomb


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to

I don’t know why the British bang on so about the horrors of the American medical system. Over the last month I’ve had three stays at the Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, and I must say I had the time of my life. It was like staying in a Four Star hotel, only I was rather ill.

       The way I got admitted was like this: I’d been to our monthly neighbourly Martini Monday where I’d consumed three foul concoctions which I chased with two strong ales. Then, up the road, I took an unpleasant meeting with a fake-modern composer who, egged on by his manageress, tried to claim copyright on three songs of mine which he’d incorporated into a grandiose concerto. I remonstrated but he kept me quiet with two glasses of cheap wine. On the way home I went into a shaking fit of righteous fury.

       Called to the lavatory in the night, as one is at this age, I suddenly collapsed to the floor like a stringless marionette. I was in terrific pain, especially in the head. My wife said I must have had a blackout and, being American, applied some mental tests. What is your name, where do you live, and who is your best friend in London (Jeremy Lewis).

       That was that—till the morning after the Royal Wedding, which we’d watched from 3 am. I had two more blackouts in a row—total collapses really—and so, by phone, our Russian lady doctor told us to report to Emergency at once.  

       Here in a mayhem of gunshot-wound  victims and over-dosed rappers, I was immediately seen by an Armenian cardiologist in a flashy tie and with a breezy manner. A myriad of electronics told him that I was suffering from “atrial fibrillation” or  an a-rythmic heartbeat... “Not good for a musician,eh? Should  I know you? I’m music mad and U2 are in town”. Powerful drugs were prescribed.

       They put me in a bed in a room of my own with nice pictures. I was hooked up  to all manner of tubes and wires from a metal Tree of Life but nurses from every land in the world came in constantly to minister. A glossy menu promised room-service gourmet food with, for example, a breakfast quote from Lewis Carroll : “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”.

       It was decided I could leave the next day, after a “cat-scan” of my head. But next week I was back again due to the cat-scan  showing blood accumulating between skull and brain. Back to hospital again. Still I had my P.G Wodehouse  to counter the stream of Asian TV channels. A very young neuro-surgeon and his pretty assistant popped in. Come and see me.

       Let out again I visited Dr. Igor who showed me a big screen image of my brain with some dark stuff sitting on the side. “The blood may be dissipating. Try not to drink too much or get into arguments”. He allowed me to fly to Nashville and make a quick album.

       But when I returned home I wobbled and stumbled and had horrid headaches. I fell down in our street, literally biting the dust. Dr. Igor did another scan and reported that a sea of blood was now pressing on my brain and must be drained otherwise death would ensue. A hole would be drilled in my head and the blood drained out. No big deal. Come to the Huntington tomorrow. What music would I like as they prepare in the theatre? I chose some of my own recordings

       As they cheerily wheeled me in I recognized some of my early ragtime recordings.  I felt so good. “We’ll be playing your stuff as we operate”, said Dr. Igor and turned to exchange another quip with his pretty assistant.

       How lovely are the drugs they knock you out with! And back in a different room, in the Intensive Care unit, surrounded by geriatrics on the verge of death, I felt euphoric. I didn’t  mind when Dr. Igor told me that his team had tired of my ragtime music, especially “Down On The Farm”, during procedure and had resorted to U2. “In fact, I’m catching Bono and The Edge tonight at the Anaheim arena!”

       Moved next day from the Death Area to Brain Mapping ,I really started enjoying hospital life—waited on hand and foot by bevy of nurses.  A baby once more. The stay was slightly spoiled by an over-active woman physical therapist who ordered me to raise my hands as I darted my eyes from left to right. “Fine—now tell me about yourself” I did. “Should I know you?” I blurted on defensively. She held up her hand like a traffic cop: “Stop! Your procedure was not a success—you  appear to be suffering from extreme verbosity”. I told her I have a radio show and am used to talking a lot. “Ah, but you also have also developed a stutter”. I told her I’ve had a stutter since childhood but that I can control it. “King’s Speech and all that!” she said and flounced off.

       So on the whole it was a pleasant experience. My head is drained and I am almost bald. This makes me look like a cool gang-banger or else, as someone said, a Pentagon General angry with the way things are going in Afghanistan.

If you are going to be ill in America I can thoroughly recommend the Huntington as a fine four star hotel/hospital. Mention my name. Haven’t had the bills yet-- but fingers crossed.


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to