Nothing Serious About The Laryngospasms

By John Dillon
If you find yourself gasping for air, you may be experiencing a laryngospasm, a side effect of anesthesia. Or you may be experiencing The Laryngospasms, a side-splitting effect produced by anesthetists.

The Laryngospasms are a singing quartet whose goal is to inject some nitrous oxide into their otherwise serious careers as certified registered nurse anesthetists. Borrowing from the Weird Al Yankovic model, they parody pop songs, but their catalogue is strictly limited to tunes about medicine and anesthesia. The group has been a popular attraction at medical conventions.

“We’re in a very serious business that is often life and death. That’s not an exaggeration,” said Gary Cozine, CRNA, nurse anesthesia manager at WestHealth in Plymouth, Minn., and a founding member of the group. “I think it provides some relief. For many people, our material is just a fun glimpse of the surgical world.”

Mr. Cozine said The Laryngospasms started on a whim while he was attending anesthesia school in Minneapolis in 1990. “The junior class put on a party for the senior class,” he recalled. “We did Neil Sedaka’s ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.’ One of the seniors said we should do it as ‘Waking Up Is Hard to Do.’ ”

The juniors took the advice, and the song has been a staple ever since. Some of the lyrics, sung over the refrain, “Patient’s going down, do-be-do down, down,” go thusly:

Don’t take my tube away from me
I’m trying to breathe, oh can’t you see
Take it out and I’ll turn blue
‘Cause waking up is hard to do.

The recipe for the material is simple: Take a list of beloved pop songs and a rhyming dictionary, stir in a little beer and shake up the lyrics. “Our best lyricist is Anheuser-Busch,” said Rich Leyh, CRNA, a Laryngospasm and an anesthetist at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn. (All members of the quartet—a fifth dropped out last fall—are from the greater Twin Cities. None is a professional singer, but all have some musical background.)

Some of their other numbers include “Little Old Lady With Her Fractured Femur” (based on “Little Old Lady from Pasadena”), “Your Beatin’ Heart” (a bow to Hank Williams) and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (this version is about hemorrhoids, which Mr. Leyh said, “puts it in a whole new context”).

The group tries to tailor lyrics to whichever group it is performing for; songs about surgery are likely candidates for a convention of surgeons. The concerts by nature have to be brief. “We’re really funny for a half-hour. Then it gets to be too much,” Mr. Cozine said.

From Local Hit to National Attraction

First The Laryngospasms gained a local following in Minnesota, playing before medical organizations there. Within a few years, the group developed a national reputation. They were invited to perform before various conventions and gatherings sponsored by drugmakers. “When drug companies paid it was pretty lucrative, but that money’s dried up,” Mr. Cozine said. As they say in show biz, no one in the group is about to quit his day job. “None of us are getting rich off it,” he said.

Still, the appearances have funded a few vacations and have provided The Laryngospasms with enough money to cut two CDs and hire musicians to help create some YouTube videos. Last year, the group was invited to perform at the national convention of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). They brought along 400 CDs to sell, but were overwhelmed with requests by the nurses. “We weren’t prepared for the response,” Mr. Leyh said. “We could have sold 1,500 or 2,000 CDs.”

“They do a fabulous job,” said Loris Cook, RN, a nurse in Oregon and one of the group’s fans who sought out a CD at the AORN meeting. “They’re one of us. They get the operating room. It relates in a very intimate way. We enjoy something really fun, and something that makes fun of what we do.”

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