By 8:45 p.m. the Rock Med room at the Cow Palace, where Ozzy Osborne is
playing, looks like a cross between a battlefield and a backstage party.
Half a dozen bodies lie prone on plastic mats. One kid with a crewcut and a
rapidly swelling nose leans against the wall, ice bag in hand. Another, in a
sleeveless T-shirt, is groggy. He sits on the examination table as the
doctor in charge holds his ID badge out and urges the kid to read. "Come on.
. .come on, you can do this. Can you read this?" The kid fixes his unsteady
head in one place and slowly mumbles the name. "Dr. Flash... Gordon." Gordon
nods his head. "You'll be OK."
Members of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic's Rock Medicine division
circulate, laughing, talking, hunting down equipment. They are young, old,
in multicolored tie-dye, in regulation hospital gear. Head doctor Flash
Gordon wears modified lumberjack attire suspenders, red T-shirt stretched
over his belly, baggy jeans, boots and a belt hung with a hunting knife and
a pliers and screw-driver set.
Rock Med, one of eight branches of the famous Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic,
has been a part of most of the big music events in the Bay Area for the past
ten years. Four hundred people (three quarters of them medically trained)
are on the volunteer list. And from a pool of about 30 doctors who also work
for free--it's Flash who always seems to work the shows nobody else wants
to, the loud, wild ones like tonight's.
Gordon leans against the wall at the Ozzy Osborne concert observing the
action, providing deadpan commentary, making bad puns. You get the feeling
that nothing could ruffle his feathers. "Hey, that's a good crowd scene," he
says as one of the many leather-clad fans walks by. The kid tosses his
cookies on the walkway ramp and Flash shakes his head. "Hey ' he turns to
the nearest cognizant body, "can you watch so that nobody slips?" The man
moves back in surprise. "Come on, I'm serious," says the doctor, who wears
a cap labeled "Uh-Oh Squad."
The man is spared guard duty when two med volunteers haul out a sack of wood
shavings and sprinkle them over the offending spot. Another crisis cleaned up.
Gordon, 38, migrated to the Bay Area in the mid-'70s and has been practicing
emergency medicine for thirteen years. "It's not so specialized, you know?"
he says. "You never know what's going to happen next." He became a Rock Med
doctor in 1978 . "I was listening to the Bread and Roses concert," he says
of the beginnings in the unit, and I heard that they needed doctors. I
thought it sounded like fun, so I called up Mimi Farina [the charity
concert's organizer, who put him in touch with the Free Clinic] and the rest
Flash now works between 50 and 100 rock shows a year, as well as putting in
30 hours a week as the medical director of the Free Clinic, a job he's held
for the past year and a half. To supplement that income, he moonlights at an
emergency room in Los Banos, commuting 250 miles to put in 24 hour shifts
once or twice a week. He doesn't waste much time.
Flash ambles with flat feet into the med room to check things out. The pace
is brisk, as it usually is for heavy metal shows. "Too much, too soon, too
late," he explains. "They drink too much and before they know it, it's too
late." Alcohol is the number one problem, he says -- that and broken
bottles. Cocaine and the so-called designer drugs such as ecstasy don't down
too many concertgoers, he says. “We know it's out there, but we rarely treat
anyone for it."
Those treated in Rock Med are never scolded or lectured. Their names and
symptoms are simply written on charts and stuck on the wall for the duration
of their stay. Some pass out for the entire evening, others need only minor
assistance. They are counseled by the volunteers, talked down from bad
trips, hugged if they feel isolated and, in the case of the strawberry blond
who wanders in with blood streaming down his face from a head wound, sewn up.
The kid is alert, but messy. Flash looks at him briefly, barks that he needs
some space " 'cause I gotta suture." As Flash explains what he's doing, the
kid tells his story. Seems he was out in the parking lot and some dudes
attacked him with broken glass. Flash rolls his eyes.
Outside the med room again he surveys the crowd, while trying to come up
with the definitive answer as to why he works so hard, and so much, for
free. "I like looking at women in tight pants," he jokes. "Nah, most of the
reason I do this is because of the sense of family, the people I work with.
They're a great crew. It's also the satisfaction of helping people." He tugs
at his beard. "Besides, it's a lot of fun."
By 10:45 the med room is being broken down. "Less than I thought," says
Flash, as he sits behind the examination table and signs off the charts, A
total of 37 people admitted, two sent to the hospital. He grimaces as he
remembers one of the worst shows. "Blue Oyster Cult, New Year's Eve. Over 70
people treated at that one." He starts to pack up: tomorrow, too bright and
too early, he’ll be heading for Los Banos.
Three days later the doc is the same, but the music and mood has changed .
It's a Grateful Dead show at Berkeley's open-air : Greek Theater, one of the
most popular events for the rock medics.
The show has been on for an hour and one person has been admitted: "High and
hot" reads his chart. Tonight tie-dye has replaced black leather and Flash
is relaxing with a Mad magazine. The pace is so calm it is almost
meditative. “I miss the action of heavy metal shows, says a volunteer, "but
this is where we get our sanity."
Flash has time to clown. He springs to his feet and delivers his impression
of a boiling pot -- eyes rolling, mouth sputtering. He follows with an
encore of a dinner fork-- back ramrod straight, arms crooked at the elbow
and pointing skyward. Friends and staffers wander in and he greets them with
enthusiasm, hugging, holding, and giving backrubs. Blue Coats, Bill Graham
Presents security people, trade jibes with medics Producer Graham, a small
child in tow, trundles by with a wave.
The Haight-Ashbury Clinic charges concert promoters for Rock Med 's
services, but it is just enough to cover expenses -- equipment, repairs,
bandages. “One thing we'd really like to do says Larry Winterbottom, a Rock
Med director, "is to have some money for doctors' bonuses."
But Flash doesn't worry about the money. He's got enough to pursue his kite
fetish and to keep his motorcycle running, and enough time to devote himself
to his most unorthodox hobby – alternative healing.
"Hey, Flash," a bearded stagehand calls out. "That stuff really worked,
thanks." Flash nods his head in satisfaction. He had treated the stagehand
for an injured ankle with "Huna healing," a kind of psychic healing used by
Hawaiian medicine men," he says. "I've been studying it since August, and
it’s an amazing thing." He talks of removing warts by the heat of his hands,
of how he treated a friend with a brain tumor. There is a revolutionary zeal
in his eyes as he expounds on this "art of medicine." :
The Dead show draws to a close. It's been an easy one. A few damaged toes, a
couple of doses of aspirin. “Yeah, it's definitely different at these
shows," says Flash as he packs his gear. "You rarely see overdoses here.
People are just a whole lot mellower."
He throws on his leather jacket, picks up his motorcycle helmet and, walking
with that peculiar fiat-footed amble, begins to make his way past the
beaming Deadheads backstage. He sees the stagehand again and drops his
helmet, picks up the guy's leg and moves his hands over it. Intently he
works on the ankle for ten minutes, fifteen, and then, satisfied, picks up
his helmet and rambles off. . .
flash gordon, m.d., f.a.c.e.p. is now a primary care physician, living in san francisco, california, and practicing at first med marin in san rafael, california. the dr. flash has also written "blood, sweat, and gears", check out his home page
or drop him some eMail: email@example.com
, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shawn Bates is a deejay and writer who tries to like heavy metal.