Lew Schon, MD, FACS, takes the stage with the Foo Fighters … twice
In 2015, Dave Grohl, frontman of the band the Foo Fighters and former drummer of Nirvana, broke his ankle when he fell from the stage while performing on tour in Sweden. After being treated in the United Kingdom, Mr. Grohl was advised to follow up with an orthopaedic surgeon in the United States. He met with Lew Schon, MD, FACS, of the department of orthopaedic surgery at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. “The stars were aligned,” recalled Dr. Schon, who organized Mr. Grohl’s postoperative management and rehabilitation. Along the way, the two developed a comradery, bonding over many things, specifically a shared love of music.
During the U.S. leg of the Foo Fighters’ 2015 tour, Mr. Grohl invited Dr. Schon to perform onstage with the band at Boston’s Fenway Park. Dr. Schon sang the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and became a sensation. Then, in July of this year, Mr. Grohl invited Dr. Schon to join him again at Fenway Park, this time to play the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
During an interview with AAOS Now, Dr. Schon described his time in the spotlight, friendship with Mr. Grohl, and love of music.
AAOS Now: Did you know Mr. Grohl’s line of work before you started treating him?
Dr. Schon: Oh, yes. I’ve been listening to rock and roll since I was about 3 years old. I knew he was an outstanding musician and performer, as well as a really good person, so it was nice to connect with him.
AAOS Now: When you have celebrity or high-profile patient cases, are there any particular considerations?
Dr. Schon: I see a lot of high-profile patients, but I also see patients with no insurance or standard insurance. I take all comers, and everyone is accorded respect, compassion, and the same level of skilled treatment.
The only difference with high-profile patients may be that, due to time commitments or privacy issues, we are more accommodating in the schedule. If I am not dealing with a higher crisis, we try to accommodate these patients quickly, knowing that, sometimes, they literally have just a half-hour to be seen and then they’re off to the next commitment. Sometimes celebrities want to maintain a very low profile or don’t want it to be known that they are injured, so we might have to treat them during off hours or in alternative settings.
AAOS Now: Did you consider Mr. Grohl’s line of work when managing his treatment and recovery course?
Dr. Schon: Absolutely. We always take into consideration what patients do for a living when determining their surgery and recovery course.
Every surgery for every individual is a customization of a standard procedure. For example, when we have a musician who’s on the road, doing shows, and traveling the world, there are considerations to make regarding movement on stage. We may also need to more carefully administer prophylaxis for blood clots for those who fly often.
Dave is a very vivacious, energetic, and giving performer. Keeping him balanced so that he protects himself, but also gives a good show, is a challenge. Once you bond with patients, it’s important to talk to them about their issues and use that to devise a plan that’s optimal for all parties. That’s what I always do.
AAOS Now: Mr. Grohl brought you onstage to sing “Seven Nation Army” during one of his 2015 shows. Then you joined him onstage this year to play “Blitzkrieg Bop.” What was that like?
Dr. Schon: The first experience was mind-altering—like an alien abduction.
It all started when I flew to Boston for a follow-up appointment with Dave. He was playing at Fenway Park and asked me what I was doing the following night. I said I was heading back home to get to my practice for Monday morning appointments. Dave said, “Why don’t you stay and perform tomorrow night?” I said, “I don’t think you want me to perform.” But Dave refused, “No, no. You have to do this,” he said.
Dave was really focused on it. This was important to him. I think it was part of his story with his ankle—how he came back after a devastating injury and got right back in the saddle. He wanted to bring the orthopaedic perspective into the story.
After some back and forth, we decided to perform “Seven Nation Army.” At 8 p.m., when the show was supposed to start, I headed backstage. My phone rang, and it was Dave asking me where I was and telling me to get to the jam room for rehearsal.
I ran there and got to this small room with all the Foo Fighters looking around. They’re trying to figure out what is going to happen with this dude with the curly hair, glasses, and bow tie at this post-grunge band concert. Dave was just beaming; he’s just a wonderful person. He said, “Okay. Let’s do this.” I grabbed the mic, and we did the song. I think the band was relieved with my performance.
Once we finished rehearsal, the show started soon after. Dave gave me this incredible introduction, and people were shocked. It was such a disruption in the flavor of the show.
I felt very comfortable, and I really had no fear. My goal was just to give people a good time—entertain them, do a good song, engage with the audience, and hopefully make something special out of it. Evidently, we did. The footage from the show went viral and was written about in newspapers worldwide. I wasn’t prepared to perform with the Foo Fighters at Fenway, but I was even less prepared to experience going viral. [Numerous home videos of the performance were shared online, some with hundreds of thousands of views each.]
After that, Dave and I kept in touch and connected whenever possible. When I saw him in November 2017, he said, “Hey, we have to get you back out there. We’re going to play Fenway again in 2018,” which had not been announced at that time.
I agreed, and the second time we did “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
AAOS Now: Did your experience this year differ from your original performance? Were you just as nervous or excited?
Dr. Schon: It was kind of like a homecoming, because a lot of the people who had been there for the concert three years earlier were there again. People would see me and say, “Hey, you’re Dr. Lew.” So, there was a nice recognition.
When I did the first show, I did my basic rock and roll version of “Seven Nation Army,” but for “Blitzkrieg Bop,” I felt there was a need for a bit more energy, so I did some dance moves at the beginning, which was fun. I think the audience was very responsive. I guess the second time around was less shocking and more solidifying. My wife and four of my five sons were there, so it was a lot fun.
AAOS Now: How did this onstage collaboration come to fruition?
Dr. Schon: Dave and I bonded about everything from children to music and orthopaedics to life. At one time, I also showed him how I blow the shofar, an ancient musical horn typically made of a ram’s horn that is used for Jewish services during the New Year. Maybe that inspired or surprised him.
AAOS Now: Can you talk about your music career?
Dr. Schon: I founded a group 20 years ago at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital called the Stimulators, which was comprised of nearly all orthopaedists. Over the years, we’ve had two residents, six fellows, a fellow’s wife, my wife, a biostatistician, hand surgeons, and even a future colorectal surgeon who had rotated on our orthopaedic service! We’ve played hospital-related gigs, a wedding, a memorial service, and fundraisers. Currently, the band is made up of three hand surgeons and myself.
AAOS Now: What were the crowds like at the two shows you played? How did they compare to your other gigs?
Dr. Schon: There were about 35,000 people at the Foo Fighters’ Fenway shows. My biggest audience previously was just 2,000 people, with my son’s band, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. I have participated in several shows for audiences of about 300 people with the Sole Heelers, the America Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society’s band, and Toe Jam, the British Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society’s band.
AAOS Now: You have a musical family. Your father was a professional musician, and one of your sons is in the band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. Can you elaborate on your talented family?
Dr. Schon: My dad was a dentist and also an outstanding musician—he played saxophone, clarinet, flute, and piano. He had a beautiful, magical, spiritual voice. He and I, along with my sisters, who have lovely voices, always played together when I was younger. We always had a musical family.
My wife, who is a conductor, musician, and singer, and her three sisters and mother are engaged in music. And all my kids played some instrument or sang. Music is in our lives.
AAOS Now: What role does music play in your life?
Dr. Schon: Music is a hobby. It’s something I use to relax and recharge.
I also use music to keep my operating room (OR) bright and cheery. If you add music to the environment, it makes people more comfortable and allows them to have fun. When you have a group of people you enjoy working with, you go the distance. I think music helps to create that environment in my practice and in the OR.
Music is also one of the many things I talk about with my patients. I try to find a common thread, so they know I respect them, and I think they respect me more, in turn. I find that having some commonality and familiarity enables us to develop a better collaborative treatment plan.
AAOS Now: Are there any components of music that cross over into your medical career?
Dr. Schon: One of the biggest lessons for all orthopaedists and doctors is that we give a lot; we are committed to our work. This job can be tough and can lead to burnout. Through all the challenges, though, occasionally you see a patient who is really appreciative. This performance with Dave was such a gift. I think nationally and internationally, a lot of doctors felt that his inclusion of me in the performance was kind of a recognition for all physicians—a reminder that we are people with talents, personalities, and lives.
Doctors have diverse interests, and we should be proud and develop those hobbies or skills. Not only is it good for us—to minimize burnout and make our lives more fulfilling—but it’s also good for the doctor-patient relationship. It helps patients understand the person behind the scalpel and mask.
Kerri Fitzgerald is the managing editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com.