Singing Patient Creates Some Sick Music

'Singing Patient' Creates Some 'Sick Music'

In order to have a successful music career, you sometimes have to be patient.

In the case of Carla Ulbrich, she had to become a patient -- a medical patient.

In the 1990s, Ulbrich was a singer-songwriter who toured all over the eastern seaboard despite coming down with Lupus in 1992.

"It took two years before I was diagnosed," she told AOL News, and during that period, she suffered fevers, joint pain, kidney pain and was anemic.

But she found her true muse in January, 2002, after a stroke of good fortune.

Scratch that. It wasn't a stroke of good fortune. It was just an actual stroke. Two of them in a three day period.

"I had one in the left foot and one in the left hand," Ulbrich said. "I woke up and my left foot was asleep. I could walk on it, but I couldn't feel it. I remember driving to a gig and got dizzy. Then the strength went out of my left hand."

It was so bad that she could only move the index finger.

"I believe that the show must go on so I sang all my songs while playing one note at a time," she laughed.

Ulbrich was out the rest of the year and because she had no health insurance, she spent eight days at a teaching hospital.

"It was like the one on 'House,' except the doctors had his social skills, but not his talent," she said.

Ulbrich got sick of the chronic illnesses and says it was only when a friend helped her co-write a ditty about Maxi-Pads that she felt her spark come back.

Yes, in order to get well, Ulbrich needed to use her sick sense of humor.

"I remember one day when I was doing a medical test that required me to pee in a jar for 24 hours," she said. "I borrowed a ukulele because it was easier to play and had a music book that included the old song, 'Little Brown Jug.'

"Sure enough, the jug they gave me to pee in was brown, so I started writing a song about peeing in a jar that was to the tune of 'Little Brown Jug.'"

From there, Ulbrich became "The Singing Patient," and was inspired to write other forms of medical music, such as a ditty inspired by countless encounters with phlebotomists who can't find veins.

"I took the Huey Lewis song, 'Stuck With You,' and changed it to 'I'm So Happy To Be Stuck By You,'" said the singer, who lives in Somerset, N.J., with her husband.

Ulbrich also turned "On The Road Again" into a ditty called "On The Commode Again," and wrote about her distaste with using the steroid Prednisone to the tune of the march in "Bridge On The River Kwai."

"Prednisone will make you get real fat/ Prednisone will give you cataracts/ Prednisone it will destroy your bones/ So get some Prednisone/ Destroy your bones today."

As much as Ulbrich's medical music is meant to make people laugh, there is a point behind songs like this.

"Obviously, this is a song about the conundrum one is placed in when your choice is dying or being very ill, and taking this known toxic drug, knowing that if you stay on it long enough you'll be even worse off than you are now," she said. "Unless something else kills you first."
Ulbrich's debut album as the Singing Patient came in 2004 and, oddly, she's making more money off her satirical song parodies than she ever did writing love songs.

"I play four gigs a month all over the country, even to England," she said. "Some gigs for medical personnel and some are for patients. But I am making more money than I was as a folk singer. You know how you make a million dollar as a folk singer? Start with $2 million."

Although Ulbrich hasn't yet reached the mainstream, her popularity in the medical community is such that a friend whose house she stayed at was able to auction off a bar of soap she used for $20 on eBay.

In addition, she has been able to parlay her fan base into other kinds of writing. Her debut book, a collection of essays called "How Can You 'Not' Laugh at a Time Like This?" (Tell Me Press) will be published Feb. 1, and she is working on a new collection of even sicker songs that are designed for two types of audiences.

"I want caregivers to know that they really do make a difference and I want to make patients laugh about something they usually cry about," she said.

There is another group she'd like to reach as well: People who think of the word "lupus" as a punchline.

"Lupus isn't a joke," she said. "It's the only disease that seems to have an anti-awareness campaign. Problem is, on 'House,' Hugh Laurie always says, 'It's not lupus!' so that's the first thing anyone says when you mention it."

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