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in science and in medicine

This is the opening verse to the song ‘Miracle Drug’ on U2’s latest album ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’.

I want a trip inside your head
Spend the day there…
To hear the things you haven’t said
And see what you might see

I wanna hear you when you call
Do you feel anything at all?
I wanna see your thoughts take shape
And walk right out

Freedom has a scent
Like the top of a new born baby’s head

They’re good, aren’t they? One can easily imagine these words speaking of the struggle of one human understanding another. The strained desire to know and be known in return. The pain of failed relationships, and a longing for a ‘miracle’ cure…

But these lyrics come even more alive when we hear Paul Hewson (‘Bono’) describe what inspired him to write these words:

“…Christopher Nolan… was a boy who came into Mount Temple [their school] just as we were leaving. He had been deprived of oxygen for two hours when he was born and developed cerebral palsy, so he was paraplegic. It’s written from his mother’s perspective. It’s about her faith in her son when for nine or ten years she had no idea if he was a conscious, sentient being or not. The hospital… the doctors and nurses could not guarantee her that he was awake to the world. But she believed it. She saw something in his eyes that was the light of being. And she had enough faith in her instinct and in her love for him to teach him, to read to him, to talk to him as if he was there.” (U2 By U2, p.322)

Indeed, the mother’s uncertain-yet-hopeful disposition is beautifully captured by Bono; she would have loved to know what was inside her son’s head; to see what he ‘might see’; to hear the things he ‘hasn’t said’; to know if he felt ‘anything at all’…
The song continues…

The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I’ve seen enough I’m not giving up
On a miracle drug

Of science and the human heart
There is no limit
There is no failure here sweetheart
Just when you quit…

Many would have never started, but the boy’s mother, Bernadette, did not give up. She saw something in his eyes that made her keep on; and as Bono continues, we see that her persistence was not in vain:

“And then, aged eleven, this drug appears on the scene which frees up one muscle… and allows him to move an inch. And through that movement he was able to type out all the stories and poems he had in his head for all those years. He had a little unicorn device attached to his forehead and his first poem was called ‘I Learn to Bow’, which is about this mechanism of the head movement but it’s also his poem of gratitude to God, who I think he felt had worked through science to free him up.”

The drug, Lioresal, had helped relax muscle spasms. His first words typed were, “I bet you never thought you would be hearing from me! …To think that I would be able to write to you was beyond my wildest dreams.” (source)

His collection of poems (‘Dam-burst of Dreams’) became his first published work as a writer, followed by a Whitbread Award-winning autobiography (‘Under the Eye of the Clock’ – excerpts & comments here) and a later novel.

He describes his prior condition as looking…

“…out through the crystal window of his eyes, a spectator before the world…unable to respond, to comment, to reply. Image upon image ricocheted round his skull and burned into his consciousness. Without means of expression, the pressure to communicate was intolerable.” (Dam Burst of Dreams, 2).

Christopher later explains the joy of his new-found ability:

“Wearing a pointer attached to a band around my head I had to fight a rebellious, spasm-ridden body for expression through the typing of every single letter. My mind was alive with creativity, but sadly the vessel had no outlet. Imagine then the absolute joy of discovering a leak through which I could slowly squeeze out a sample of my poetic musings.”

I am simply fascinated by this story, and most enthralled with Bono’s reflective lyrics. The song continues, exploring thoughts of Love, Logic, Science and God…

I am you and you are mine
Love makes no sense of space
And time…will disappear
Love and logic keep us clear
Reason is on our side, love…

The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I’ve had enough of romantic love
I’d give it up, yeah, I’d give it up
For a miracle, a miracle drug, a miracle drug

God I need your help tonight

Beneath the noise
Below the din
I hear your voice
It’s whispering
In science and in medicine
“I was a stranger
You took me in”

Thank God for Love, Logic and Science.

6 replies on “in science and in medicine”

Thank you for this. What a wonderful story. I am a pediatric neurologist and it is these kinds of experiences that keep me going through all the pain and loss.

I just purchased U2 by U2 last weekend – haven’t got round to reading it yet, but it’s definitely going to the top of my list now.

That’s a beautiful song and a wonderful story, I love the opening verse:

I want a trip inside your head
Spend the day there…
To hear the things you haven’t said
And see what you might see

It makes me think of my middle daughter, who lives with aspergers, and whilst I’m not looking for a miracle drug, I would love to be able to spend time in her head. To understand her view on life.

Nice little blog you got going here Dale, I might have to come back…

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