Singer Judy Collins Grateful for Care at National Jewish Health

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes by Judy CollinsThe “gurgling” in her lungs should have been a warning to Judy Collins. But in the fall of 1962, the 23-year-old folk singer was touring regularly, planning a third album, and struggling with personal issues. “I didn’t think much about my health in those days, mental, emotional or physical,” said Ms. Collins during a telephone interview in the summer of 2012.

So, in spite of feeling terrible, she flew to Tucson and performed her scheduled concert. The next morning, her friends insisted she see a doctor. By that afternoon, Ms. Collins was quarantined in a remote hospital wing, beginning treatment for tuberculosis.

As she recalls in her new memoir, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, Ms. Collins spent a month in Tucson. Soon, however, doctors were advising her to consider treatment at a different hospital, better equipped and more accustomed to treating tuberculosis patients.

The obvious choice was National Jewish Health in Denver. Ms. Collins’ family still lived in Denver, where she had grown up. It also offered free care to all patients, as it had done for more than six decades.  “I didn’t have any money…and of course it was the best hospital in the country for TB.”

(Financial realities caused National Jewish Health in 1968 to begin charging patients for care. Millions of dollars worth of charity care continue to be provided every year. National Jewish Health’s reputation has continued to grow, being ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the number one respiratory hospital in the nation for 15 years running.)

So with the help of Ms. Collins’ friend, the actor and performer Theo Bikel, she traveled to Denver and National Jewish Health, where she stayed for five months.

“They were so wonderful, you know, everybody was just so great,” said Ms. Collins. “What I really remember was the kindness, the total focus on the professional direction of the recovery and attention to all the details. I was lucky to be there, I’ll tell you that.”

During her five-month stay she followed a daily schedule of drug therapy, counseling, education, physical exercise, and of course singing. She remembers a pleasing social atmosphere, with communal meals in the cafeteria. She made friends with her Vietnamese roommate who taught her Asian cooking, and a young Romanian woman who gave her her first facial. Russians taught her about saunas and massage.

In addition to regaining her physical health, Ms. Collins enjoyed a respite from her budding career and turbulent personal life.

“I was still sick, but my illness, or perhaps fate, had given me the time to think about what was happening in my life,” wrote Ms. Collins in her memoir. “My husband, the child I loved, an often overwhelming career that had swept me into its accompanying chaos—all were on pause. It was a time to reflect and to face another kind of music.”

While at National Jewish Health she made the painful decision to file for divorce and custody of her son, Clark. She also learned new songs, and planned a third album. In March 1963, she was given a clean bill of health and departed for a new chapter of her life, in New York City at the center of the folk music scene. She soon recorded her third album, her first to make the Billboard charts.

On it, she included a song she had learned while recovering at National Jewish Health, Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” whose lyrics echo the reflective aspect of Ms. Collins’ stay at National Jewish Health.

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)

And a time to every purpose under Heaven.

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