Roger Levine, M.D. (Part III)


On Monday morning, Levine comes in.  I ask him to call Palliative Care.  Hospice care is six-months-to-death; palliative care is when you’re wrecked but won’t die fast enough to qualify for Hospice.  (Dr. Tucker referred me to Hospice last year and they wouldn’t take me.)  Levine says he will call them, then looks around and says that I should have some music, and I can have a telephone.  All day, I ask people about this, clinging to the desperate hope that my solitary confinement will be eased.

When Levine comes back on Tuesday morning he says he has not called Palliative Care.  He says I don’t belong on his unit but won’t take five minutes to make the call that might get me moved out.  Why do you suppose that is?  Do you think Levine wants to put the screws to me?  Do you think he might find perverse satisfaction in knowing I’m under his control and can’t do anything about it?  And now Levine has reversed himself:  he says he didn’t say I could have a phone and music; he says he only said they would look into it.

All I have to listen to are the psychotics howling in the hall, hour after hour, day after day.

I ask for the charge nurse; the nurse manager, Sue somebody; the director, Gail Gilbert.  They all say they will look into this or that.  They disappear and never tell me the outcomes of their lookings.  Have they looked into anything?  I have no way of knowing; I am being held incommunicado.

The NYS Patients’ Bill of Rights says I have the right to “Receive complete information about your diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.”  Levine gives me nothing.  With the exception of Friday, he gives me about five minutes and then walks out while I’m still trying to talk to him.  I have the right to “Participate in all decisions about your treatment and discharge from the hospital.”  Nobody has any discussion with me about my treatment or discharge.

St. Joe’s says “If you would like to meet with Palliative Care Consult Service, please tell your nurse or call 8-5175.”  I tell my doctor and he doesn’t call them.  I have no phone, am bedridden and cannot exercise the right St. Joe’s says I have.

The discharge planners, Amy and Judy, come.  I ask them to call Palliative Care.  They say they have to get a referral from Dr. Levine.  No, I cry, you don’t!  As a patient, I have the right to make the call!  But because I am disabled, I can’t!  They agree to make the call.  When I ask who will get back to me, how I will hear of results, they say, “Dr. Levine.”

I ask a nurse to call my church and ask for a visit.  She says, “I’ll have to ask Dr. Levine.”  Everything is to go through Levine; he will control every moment of my life and he will not talk to me.  He turns on his heel, says, “I don’t have to listen to this,” and walks out.  My frustration leads to anger and my anger leads to cursing—which then is turned back on me as the reason why he won’t deal with me.  I am slowly being driven crazy—held incommunicado, deprived of basic medical care, and insulted and abused at every turn.

Dr. Gerry Edwards comes every day.  He is the Heritage Family Practice doctor who is on hospital duty this week.  He takes my scraps of paper and calls my church and Palliative Care himself.

I listen to Levine yelling at a man who is psychotic.  “Victor, did you go to court yesterday?  Victor, did you go to court yesterday?  Victor, did you go to court yesterday?  LISTEN!”  The patient is psychotic, not deaf.  Levine has virtually no skills for talking to his patients.  Half the therapy aides have better skills for talking to a person with psychosis than does the head psychiatrist.

A day comes—possibly Wednesday—when a woman from Mental Hygiene comes.  She is not a lawyer.  She writes a single sentence, that I want a court hearing, and I sign it.  I think that the court hearing is to get me taken off the commitment so that I can be voluntary.

Levine comes in and says, “I understand you wrote a letter for discharge.”  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  He says I’ll be discharged the next day and walks out without discussion of discharge planning.  Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards is telling me that Dr. Tucker is trying to get me into a nursing home; I qualify for skilled nursing.  That is a correct placement.

Somewhere along the line, I am moved from the back of the unit to the front; I have a splendid roommate.  I imagine that was an accomplishment of Director Gail Gilbert.  Somehow I get Mary Claire Eddy, from Patient Relations, to my bedside.  I ask for help in filing an OPMC complaint against Levine.  She refuses.  We settle on filing a grievance against Levine with Dr. Sandra Sulik, vice president for Medical Affairs.

When I tell a staff member that I have filed the grievance, he immediately responds, “I will be your cabana boy for life if you can get this resolved.”  I tell my roommate, Desdie.  She throws her arms wide and says, “Where do I sign up?”  She passes the word.  Alyssa shows up in my doorway, asking for help against Levine.  I am told of a young man with psychosis.  His mother is his Health Care Proxy and she can’t get Levine to talk to her or meet with her.  She leaves messages but he doesn’t return calls.  She’s in tears.  Nobody knows how to file a grievance against Levine.  Everybody who knows him wants to.

Dr. Edwards says Dr. Tucker says Levine is working well with him.  They don’t get it.  The way Levine talks to his colleagues has nothing to do with the way he talks to his patients.  Levine is facile, duplicitous, deceitful and malicious with his patients; with his colleagues, he does doctor-speak and they are clueless as to how he treats his patients. 

One staff member calls Levine “The Hollow Man.”  All Levine can talk about are medicine and the hospital.  After years of working with his staff, there is no indication that he has any family, friends, hobbies or outside activities.  He can’t carry on any small-talk or make conversation.  One staff member expects that Levine will eventually have a breakdown and end up in an out-of-state facility.  Levine is a physician working impaired.  He could not pass examination by a competent psychiatrist.

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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