There's an old saying about what happens when a doctor becomes a patient. Dr. Richard Patt, once a high-placed anaesthesiologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, became a musician first.
Patt, who musically goes by "Dr. Rick," left the cancer-research hospital after developing a drug problem, which he says was "not consistent with my being an anaesthesiologist anymore." He got sober and went on to found the Patt Center for Cancer Pain & Wellness and now practices at Doctors Clinic of Houston on the Northwest Freeway.
Always an amateur musician, the Baltimore native channeled his sobriety into his hobby, calling music a "recovery tool." He became a steady-gigging member of the local blues scene as the leader of Dr. Rick & the Burners and now his new project Dr. Rick's Fool's Paradise.
Dr. Rick is also heavily involved in the Houston Blues Society and served on the board for a couple of years. Nowadays Dr. Rick says he treats many local musicians for ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Seeing what was happening to his friend Leo Aston, the leader of the Leo Trio who passed away from cancer last month, led him to go get checked out himself.
The news wasn't good. In March, doctors diagnosed Patt with stage 4 lung cancer and gave him a "certain and very poor" prognosis. Today, he reckons he's got about four to six months.
Still, Dr. Rick sounds in remarkable spirits. He is quite a character, who first appeared on the Houston Press' radar in 1999, when he fought his Texas Medical Center-area homeowner's association over the right to keep his collection of exotic statues -- the Hindu god Ganesh, the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland, a huge teddy bear in a blue and yellow sweater doing a handstand -- in his front yard.
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Patt says he in some pain, but overall he feels good and "I look pretty good." He is being treated at Anderson (by some of his former students), but says he his wife Pauline have decided to forego more aggressive treatment such as surgery or chemotherapy in favor of what he calls "comfort care." The former Deputy Chief of the hospital's Pain and Symptom Management Section knows too well what lies down that route.
"It can be a pretty grisly spot," he says. "I'm not sure I want to put my wife through it."
As someone who has studied the chemistry and physiology of pain his entire professional life, Patt says the act of making music is remarkable therapy in its own right. Fool's Paradise plays every week at Capone's, a couple of times a month at House of Blues' restaurant, and occasionally at Houston bars like the Big Top and Shakespeare's Pub.
Since he started the more acoustic-oriented Fool's Paradise, his restaurant bookings have increased, Patt adds.
"What I learned is with a hardball pain problem, it's important to stay a little bit ahead of it," he says. "It's very hard to quell. We typically play for three or four hours, and once you get engaged, I think it has to do with more hormones like epinepherine and endorphins, but what I found was I had no concerns about pain during the engagement, and then afterward that stuff would leach out of me and I would just be devastated."
Sunday, Dr. Rick's Fool's Paradise will play the HBS-sponsored "Enjoy Every Sandwich," an all-day show at the Continental Club also featuring Houston bluesmen Texas Johnny Brown, Milton Hopkins, Eugene Moody, Paul Ramirez and Eric Demmer, as well as stage magic and burlesque dancing. (Leo Aston was also on the bill, and remains on the poster.)
Although it is a fundraiser -- Patt says he's pretty well taken care of, but he worries about his wife -- he considers this show as more of a party than a benefit. He borrowed the title from a Warren Zevon song.
"I think it's sad sometimes when the people can't be present and participate," he says.
It took Rocks Off a minute to find the proper euphemism, but Dr. Rick says he has a good grasp on the "existintial" nature of his diagnosis.
"I've given it some thought," For I'm sure a huge variety of reasons, when something like this comes down, people just kind of lick their wounds and hunker in and you just don't hear or see much of them.
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"Looking back, I've had a very interesting life," he continues. "I'm choosing to regard this as part and parcel of what is a full life, kind of like a field trip. My question is, 'What can I learn from this?'
Sunday, August 26 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. Doors open at 2 p.m.