How Telephone Tag with a Doctor Affected the Metropolitan Opera

There’s a fascinating health story on the front page of the New York Times today. But it isn’t billed as something about healthcare. It’s a story about the possible need for the conductor of the Metropolitan Opera to retire.

James Levine 

James Levine, 72, the Opera’s music director for almost 40 years, has been struggling with a combination of Parkinson’s disease, back problems and a severe spinal injury from a fall. This season Levine has seemed more frail, showing difficulty controlling his left arm and sometimes unavoidably leaning to the right of his wheelchair while conducting.

Levine was thinking it was time to retire. He was worried that his Parkinson’s was worsening. He had called his neurologist, but had played “telephone tag” with his doctor and never got an appointment.

Sound familiar? You have a health concern, try getting a chance to talk with your doctor, but can’t connect, so you move on.

It turns out that the delay in getting the attention Levine needed was indeed unfortunate. Not only did it almost cause Levine to retire, but Levine’s weakness could most likely have been resolved far sooner.

When Levine finally got in to see his doctor, Stanley Fahn, M.D., it seemed that his involuntary movements (dyskinesia) were most likely caused by an overdose of his medication for Parkinson’s, L-dopa.  Lowering the dose would have solved the problem.

Now on a new dose of the medication, Levine is set to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra later in February and will begin rehearsals for a production of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” with Placido Domingo in March. That’s music to our ears.

The healthcare lesson from Levine’s experience?

  • If you notice a change in your health, power through telephone tag and get an appointment with your physician. Don’t ignore the issue. Don’t get discouraged by the front desk.
  • Always question whether your medication may be causing undesirable side effects or whether you might benefit from an adjustment in the dose.
  • Don’t make big life decisions until you fully understand any health problems you’re experiencing. Your issues may be more manageable than you think.



About Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN

I'm an experienced healthcare and science editor and journalist. But most of all, I'm a registered nurse with many years of experience working in hospitals. I've learned what patients and families need first hand. But I've also worked to improve hospitals and educate people about their health. I'm committed to helping people take charge of their health care and get what they need from a complex and often discouraging healthcare system.
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2 Responses to How Telephone Tag with a Doctor Affected the Metropolitan Opera

  1. Barbara, thanks so much for catching that ‘telephone tag’ angle in this NYT story. It is, of course, what should have leaped out – wonder how many NYT readers caught it, too. They’re a pretty brainy bunch so I’m hopeful…. “Don’t get discouraged by the front desk!” is solid medical advice that could save lives (or conducting careers!)



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