The cancelation of Bono’s concert tour for weeks after back surgery similar to what Hank Williams endured nearly 60 years ago, is a stark reminder of how Hank Williams’ biographers and commentators have dismissed the seriousness of Hank’s life long back condition.
Open back surgery is debilitating now; it was debilitating then; but the sophisticated surgery techniques and MRIs of today did not exists then, nor did and entire arm of the medical system devoted to pain management.
Bono had open back surgery this week in the era of miracle medicine. Hank Williams had his surgery on December the 13th 1951 when such operations were rare and dangerous.
Here’s some info on Bono’s surgery.
“Bono suffered severe compression of the sciatic nerve. On review of his MRI scan, I realised there was a serious tear in the ligament and a herniated disc, and that conservative treatment would not suffice,” said Dr Muller Wohlfahrt.
Wohlfhart added: “We are treating Bono as we would treat any of our athletes, and while the surgery has gone very well, the coming weeks are crucial for a return to full health.”
U2 have been forced to cancel their headline slot at Glastonbury and postpone US and Canadian tour dates due to Bono’s injury.
Munich Professor Jorg also recommended surgery. He said when he met with the singer, “He was already in severe pain, with partial paralysis in the lower leg. The ligament surrounding the disc had an 8-millimeter tear, and during surgery we discovered fragments of the disc had traveled into the spinal canal. This surgery was the only course of treatment for full recovery and to avoid further paralysis.
For those of you with a real interest in what happened to Hank 60 years ago. Of course this is just a hint, because Hank would have had the full lower back area opened by the scalpel, not the modern little incision they use today. Here’s how the back surgery Hank had, looks in 2010, not 1951!
UPDATE: Please stay with me. At the bottom of the post there is a link to the back surgery which is closer to what Hank would have had in 1951.
Today in 2010 no back surgeon going into the back and opening up down to the bones, the nerves, the cartilage and spinal cord would ever guarantee the result. Even today they won’t guarantee that a patient will not be left with paralysis and lifelong disability
No questions asked. Bono’s off the tour bus even with all its modern luxury.
Hank Williams. They tried to get him back on stage January 29th and 30th 1952.
Even though Hank had undergone just about the most serious surgery you were likely to have in those days, which is just as serious today, he was forced to make an apology for not making a show scheduled for the end of DECEMBER.
There have been suggestions that not everything Hank said in that statement was true. I don’t believe it. There was no exaggeration at all. He describes what happen in the surgery exactly as it would be described today.
But how sad is it that he had to apologize for not being able to make a show a couple of weeks after major surgery?
The truth is, a failed attempt at spinal fusion even today could leave you in constant pain and severely disabled.
The seriousness of Hank Williams spina bifida which he had since birth and would now be called a serious birth defect, and the pioneering nature of his open back surgery a spinal fusion in late 1951 has been downplayed, dismissed, treated as insignificant , and there have been suggestions it was overstated or over played by Hank in his apology.
The truth has tragically come forward in the release of Mother’s Best, ‘Revealed’ album. You can hear his real pain as he tries to stand up to sing ‘Beautiful Home’ while the live disk was recording the program. And that was in 1951 before the operation.
When you read the endless lurid salacious descriptions of Hank’s final days and so many of them such as those by Colin Cheapshot and others have been repeated over and over, you start to wonder didn’t anybody ever put two and two together?These descriptions show up in books, articles, and record liner notes where his works should be the main topic. These gloating descriptions imply moral weakness, hypocrisy, debauchery, lechery, the template for later rock star excesses.
We know Hank was a serious binge alcoholic all his life, and lived a hard drinking, rollicking, womanizing, huntin fishin, go get em lifestyle, but a lot of the most disheartening, sad, painful details of Hank at the bottom came in 1952 after this surgery. And we don’t know what his body felt like; we don’t know what was going through his brain.
When you read these sentences, just remember the picture of that knife going in and chopping your vertebrae, scraping the bones and nerves and cartilage touching the spinal cord itself . And think of the pain.
Best of luck Bono. And take all the time you need and want.
UPDATE: Nov 9, 2010; The link I had here is no longer active on YouTube. A woman described the terrible pain in the weeks following spinal fusion. This new one is not as graphic but about two and a half minutes into it she talks about some of the pain and recovery issues she faced. She is on a video from a spinal surgery hospital so the severity of the pain may be downplayed a bit. But I think you get the idea. I will keep looking for descriptions of back surgery recovery. But here is the link that is working.
Just something to remember the next time you’re reading about the last couple of years of Hank’s life.
If anyone has experience with this type surgery please leave a comment.