MUSIC AND MEDICINE: A prime example of poor work, Part 1

by Coscannon

This article, written in 2014, is why I earlier stated there are: “other studies written by medical people who could know more but in fact know less.” I saw no reason to include it in my bibliography. It wasn’t useful. Poorly composed, it omitted and misconstrued essential data; lacked original material of substance; and contained numerous factual errors.

Translation issues also undermine clarity. Author Bagatti is Italian. The source from which he outright lifts at least 50% of his material wrote in German. (That's the Gasenzer and Neugebauer study I address below.) This present English translation includes the fourth incarnation of 1937 clinical data originally written in English.

Broadly speaking, Bagatti’s errors fall into two major categories. The first consists of misinformation such as incorrect dates, actions attributed to the wrong people; confusion about names and places, etc. Here are just a few examples, ranging from minor to serious.

*FACT: An unconscious Gershwin was transported to the hospital on July 9, 1937.
BAGATTI CLAIMS: July 8.

*FACT: Gershwin had a seizure at rehearsal with the L.A. Philharmonic on Feb. 10, 1937 and fell off the podium. He was caught by his valet. There was no evidence of a seizure in that evening’s performance. A second seizure did occur in performance the following night. Gershwin lost consciousness, smelled burning rubber, missed several bars (to the astonishment of Oscar Levant), but recovered and resumed playing.
BAGATTI CLAIMS: Both seizures, which he describes with some differences from the above, occurred on Feb. 11, 1937. He seems unaware Gershwin fell from the podium and that the incidents happened on different dates.

*FACT: Nearly all biographers find it unlikely Gershwin consulted Zilboorg by phone in February 1937 and that Zilboorg then suspected an organic origin and instructed Gershwin to have “a thorough medical examination.”
BAGATTI CLAIMS: The above did happen. Bagatti doesn’t realize that Gershwin didn’t call Zilboorg until June 1937. Zilboorg then recommended Dr. Ernest Simmel – ANOTHER psychiatrist. An odd recommendation if Zilboorg indeed suspected a disease with organic origin.

Simmel was a more responsible professional than Zilboorg. He had no stake in maintaining Zilboorg’s misdiagnosis. Records show it was Simmel who DID suspect Gershwin’s illness had an organic origin. He brought an internist, Gabriell Segall, onto the case on June 9. They then added a neurologist, Dr. Eugene Ziskind, to the diagnostic team. Bagatti never mentions Simmel or Ziskind. If Bagatti indeed read the material in his own bibliography, he ought to have known.

*FACT: Dr. Walter Dandy, a prominent neurosurgeon on the East Coast, agreed to operate on Gershwin. However, when Dandy reached Newark Airport, he was told not to come as Gershwin required immediate surgery. Dandy never got to the hospital, never met Gershwin, never examined his brain, saw the tumor or, as far as can be determined, microphotographs of the excised cyst.
BAGATTI CLAIMS: Dandy arrived at the hospital just too late to perform the surgery.

This is a major error. Dandy’s verdict on the case, as seen below, is cited here as the most significant summary of Gershwin’s diagnosis and prognosis. Bagatti seems completely unaware that ALL of Dandy’s information came from Gershwin’s internist, Dr. Segall, who hadn’t been part of the operating team either. At Dandy’s later request, Segall sent Dandy summaries that Segall had solicited from Dr. Carl Rand, a neurosurgeon who did operate*, and pathologist Isaac Yale Ochs. We now know that parts of Ochs’ pathology report were certainly wrong. For example, Ochs describes a nucleus structure that can’t possibly exist. Dandy also requested photos and autopsy records. As far as can be determined, he never received either and there was no autopsy.

So Dandy, while no doubt attempting to reassure, was also pontificating on the basis of faulty third-hand data when he wrote:

“I can’t fathom what could possibly be done for Mr. Gershwin. It was one of those fulminating tumors. There are only a handful of removable tumors, and I believe that, even though a great part of the tumor was removed and he could have had a brief recovery, he would soon relapse, as the disease was rather fulminating from the very beginning.”

*Also present was Dr. Howard Naffziger, a neurosurgeon of greater reputation, who'd been called in. Naffziger claimed he couldn't operate without his own surgical tools. It's been suggested Naffziger expected the worst and didn't want his reputation sullied.


Posted on Sep 21, 2015, 5:12 PM

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