The House Doctor
I like the arts in general and it’s such a privilege being in New York as there is so much to see that one can’t get enough of it.
It all started with a fortuitous phone call to a specialist on behalf of a patient of mine. As you know if you are a patient in my practice, I always call the specialist myself to facilitate contact and to explain why I am referring the patient to him or her. It helps the patient and the specialist and I find it very useful in my practice. Anyway, as I was saying, it was during one particular phone call that I was asked to be a house doctor for the Lincoln Center. They said “You are rarely called and you get two free tickets for the ballet, concerts and other shows at Lincoln Center”. Sounded like a dream come through. A “great gig” as an actor friend told me.
So for my first “gig” I took my wife to the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall to see a really incredible program with Wynton Marsalis who is the Music Director of the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, a composer and a trumpeter. Not just any trumpeter but probably the best in the world.
His orchestra was playing with the National Symphony Orchestra of Romania, the first New York appearance for this wonderful and young-ish Orchestra under the vibrant baton of Maestro Cristian Mäcelaru.
As a house doctor, I was told to go to the fifth floor of the Rose Hall, an impressive venue in front of Columbus Circle with a view to die for. My wife and I were very well guided to the house manager on duty, Mr. Indio Melendez, who showed me the medical bag with everything one would need for a first aid kit and where the defibrillator was and wished me and my wife a good and peaceful show.
We were politely ushered to our privileged seats on the aisle in the first third of the hall. The ushers knew my name and reverentially gave us the Playbill program. I admit to being a bit anxious as I glanced at the audience to try to guess how many people were there and if they looked young, old or if anyone looked particularly frail or in need of possible assistance. A common professional instinct and observation, I guess.
The concert was about to start and we were seated for three whole minutes when an usher called Connie came to me and whispered “a woman fell and needs you in the back”. So I went and found a couple of ushers surrounding a woman on the floor. They made room for the me and I saw a woman in her sixties on the floor. She appeared not in any acute distress but she had tripped on a couple of steps leading to her seat. I sat on the armrest next to her and asked the usual questions like did she faint or did she trip, lose consciousness, take any medicine, suffer from any chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or any other information that might help me to help her? I then asked her permission to examine her head where she had banged it as she fell and found no sign of bleeding or any laceration but a sizeable bump on the side of her head – the parietal area of the skull to be exact. I asked the closest usher to bring me an ice pack that I had seen earlier in the first aid kit and instantly I had in my hand a small but efficient ice pack and gave it to my new patient. She placed it over the bump. She asked me if I was also supposed to assist the Orchestra. Yes, I said jokingly, especially if anyone plays an instrument out of tune. She laughed and then I knew she was fine and I could regain my seat.
At the intermission I went back there to see how she was doing. She was better. I again asked her permission to check her head and was happy to notice her bump had almost disappeared.
After the short intermission, everyone was waiting for Wynton Marsalis’ symphony to begin and one minute before the first movement, another usher came to me and this time quite anxiously told me someone needed a doctor right away and guided me outside the hall in the waiting area where a man in his seventies was seated holding his hand on his chest. He was pale and breathless. The house manager introduced me as the house doctor and my new patient told me his name and that he was visiting from Atlanta spending a few days in New York with his wife and family. I knew immediately that this man’s life was at risk. I had to use all my skills not to frighten him as I needed to send him to a hospital for an electrocardiogram and other laboratory tests to confirm my strong suspicion of a heart attack. The medical bag with blood pressure cuff, stethoscope and kit were already there at my disposal. The house manager was extremely efficient and capable. I asked the unsuspecting patient the usual questions such as previous medical problems. As I suspected, he had had three stents at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, one of the best medical centers in the world, where coincidentally I am an Assistant Professor of Medicine. He also had diabetes and a number of other chronic medical conditions. I learned that he was scheduled for a gastric bypass the following week in Atlanta and had been told to stop his aspirin and Plavix, both blood thinners usually prescribed to prevent a further heart attack. He had stopped these two medicines a week prior to coming to New York.
He wanted to go back to his hotel, then wanted to take a taxi to the hospital but finally agreed with me to have an ambulance take him safely to Mount Sinai West, formerly the Roosevelt Hospital. I gave him, just in case, an aspirin before the paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital. I also met his son and daughter in law, a very nice couple. I spoke in French with the patient’s wife and made her promise to call me the next day to let me know how he was. It was his 74th birthday the next day.
She did call me the next day and told me he was doing well, and that he had two stents put in his coronary arteries as they were 90% blocked. She, the patient and their children were so grateful and thanked me profusely for this positive outcome.
As a House Doctor it’s certainly a good feeling that you can help someone who comes your way as an unexpected patient. It’s an essential service that is provided by responsible venues and apparently not widely utilized although in my very first experience proved an eventful and very necessary one.
So as the expression goes “there is no free lunch in America”, now I know there are no free tickets either.
Albert Levy MD