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Tom Petty Songs for the Operating Room

Tom Petty Hospital Music

Tom Petty Hospital Music

A couple of months ago, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with acute appendicitis and found myself being wheeled into an operating room. As they were preparing to put me under, music was already playing over the room speakers. While I know that many surgeons like to have music playing while they operate (most memorably, William Hurt’s character in the movie The Doctor always began his surgeries to the tune of Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)”, this was the first time I’d heard of the music starting before the patient (meaning me) was knocked out. “The playlist today is courtesy of the doctor,” one of the nurses told me cheerfully.

It was a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song. It continued playing as I drifted into la-la land. And now I have absolutely no memory of which Tom Petty song it was. I know that anesthesia often results in amnesia, and that’s a good thing, because who wants to remember what happens immediately before and after they cut you open? But it’s been driving me me crazy, trying to remember which song it was.

So I started thinking about the possibilities, and which Tom Petty songs would be well-suited to performing surgery, and which would probably be a bad choice.

“American Girl”: good tempo, nice Bo Diddley riffs that would keep everyone awake and on their toes. But the line, “And if she had to die…” Hmm, maybe not a good tune for the OR!

“Breakdown”: too hypnotic, too slow. Don’t want your surgeon to start drifting off or get so mesmerized that he can’t remember if he tied off that suture or not.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More”: highly inappropriate for the OR. In the video for the song, Tom Petty (looking very menacing) and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics turn Alice in Wonderland into a cake, cut into her, and EAT her. ‘Nuff said.

“Free Fallin'”: maybe. It’s a special song for me personally, with all of its references to the San Fernando Valley, where I was born. Lilting and lyrical, it would keep that surgery flowing smoothly.

“I Won’t Back Down”: steady beat, medium tempo, could be good. Its message of defiance and optimism is usually leveled at “The Man,” but could also be a rallying cry against the tyranny of an appendix abruptly gone bad.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream”: nice upbeat lyrics, but it’s a little amped up for surgery. I always start driving faster when this song comes on the radio, and you wouldn’t want your surgeon to start cutting faster in a similar fashion.

“The Waiting”: this is what you’ve already done before the surgery, so by the time you’re in the OR, it’s over. It definitely is the hardest part, of course. “You take it on faith/you take it to the heart” is certainly something you have to do when you consent to letting other people knock you unconscious and remove your body parts.

“You Don’t Know How It Feels”: too much harmonica for the OR? I might worry that the surgeon would apply a little too much pressure on the downbeat with that scalpel. And I honestly don’t care what my doctor does in his off time, but “Let’s roll another joint” clearly shouldn’t be a directive while actually operating.

“You Got Lucky”: down and dirty and attitudinal. I kind of like it, might make the surgeon feel in control and a bit cocky. I did get lucky, in that they found a surgeon who could fit me into his outpatient surgery schedule at 4:00 in the afternoon, so I didn’t have to go to the ER.

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”: this is my favorite Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song of all time, but I definitely wouldn’t want it playing during my surgery. Kim Basinger is DEAD throughout the entire video (though she creepily opens her eyes at the end after Tom has lovingly laid her to rest in the ocean), which just doesn’t bode well for the recovery room.

I’ve decided that “Wildflowers” would be the best Tom Petty song for the operating room. Sweet and gentle, but not sleepy (you want to be asleep during your surgery, but you don’t want your surgeon to be nodding off). “Far away from your trouble and worry/You belong somewhere you feel free.” That sounds nice, free from that pesky infected appendix.

Of course, maybe a Traveling Wilburys or Mudcrutch song would be good to lose your appendix to, but my doc went with the Heartbreakers.

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