A CALIFORNIA DOCTOR ROCKS WITH THE STARS
Mariah Carey singing a roller coaster of notes. Britney Spears slinking across the stage in a sexy outfit. The Eagles rocking to 'Hotel California'. Stuart Finkelstein, MD, has seen them all, but not as part of the audience. You'll likely find him watching from just offstage. But you have to look closely: He dresses in black to blend into the shadows.
His inconspicuousness, however, belies his importance. Dr. Finkelstein is doctor to the stars, the one who makes sure Mariah, Britney and the rest are healthy when they take the stage. The Cerritos, Calif., doctor works a handful of concerts a year, showing up at the Staples Center and other arenas to give flu and B-12 shots, treat respiratory infections and tend to the other ills of singers, band members and the crew. He was the doctor for Michael Jackson's world tour in 1993 and was the one who ordered Jackson to bed for dehydration, postponing the star's second Bangkok show.
Hearing Dr. Finkelstein talk about his experiences is like listening to a boy who just got an autographed baseball from his favorite big leaguer. 'If you wanted to script this much fun you couldn't,' said Dr. Finkelstein, 47, an internist at Cerritos Family Medical Group, south of Los Angeles.
It started with John Denver. Dr. Finkelstein was a medical student during the 1980s when one of his two brothers was a manager for Denver. Dr. Finkelstein said he was asked to take care of skiers participating in Denver's tournament. That meant enjoying free lodging at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe, skiing, flying in Denver's jet and getting a front-row seat to the glitzy world of entertainment, a world that dazzled the young student.
'I remember seeing one of the promoters betting at the craps table what I paid for four years of medical school,' he said. Dr. Finkelstein would not work this close again to a music star until 1993, when he was contacted by a road manager he met at the Denver tournament who became connected with Jackson. The doctor was hired to care for Jackson's massive 160-person entourage on the tour. But he soon ended up treating Jackson.
After an outdoor concert in Bangkok, the media reported that Jackson became dehydrated. Dr. Finkelstein gave him saline solution intravenously and told him to get some rest, newspapers said. The doctor's orders postponed the star's next gig for two days. Once Jackson was better, he did the second Bangkok show and worked hard throughout the tour.
'Michael danced so hard in his shows that he would lose 10% of his body weight,' said Dr. Finkelstein, whose wife is in practice with him and covered his patients while he toured. As a show went along, Jackson would change into smaller-sized clothing to adjust to the loss. During his 3 1/2 months on the tour, Dr. Finkelstein carried a suitcase full of IVs, antibiotics and decongestants - supplies ready to treat just about anything.
In Mexico City, Jackson's dancers struggled with the thin air and needed oxygen between dances. At one show, actress Elizabeth Taylor, a good friend of Jackson, was watching from one side of the stage when the show's pyrotechnics were set off. 'She ended up getting something in her eye that we had to take out,' Dr. Finkelstein said.
It wasn't all work and no play for the doctor. 'We would have squirt gun fights and watch the Three Stooges,' he recalled. One time, Jackson and the others played a trick on a valet, calling him into a room for a bogus emergency then dousing him with water guns.
Dr. Finkelstein saw parts of the world some people only imagine visiting: Singapore, Moscow, Paris, Switzerland and Chile. 'We stayed in five-star hotels. When you came into town [with Jackson], you were happening,' he said. It was the only time Dr. Finkelstein toured with a pop star. Mostly, he does individual concerts in Los Angeles.
He has been there for Nine Inch Nails. At Carey's rehearsal, Dr. Finkelstein's son and daughter got their picture taken with basketball legend Magic Johnson. When he worked a show for Spears this winter, the doctor said he was a bit stunned. 'She was so gorgeous, I couldn't talk,' said Dr. Finkelstein, who will work another Spears concert in May.
Promoters who hire the doctor say he plays a vital role in keeping a show healthy. 'He's a great guy and a great doctor. We love to have him around,' said Paul Gongaware, co-CEO of Concerts West in Beverly Hills, Calif. Dr. Finkelstein said he is well-paid for his work, but he won't divulge his fee.
And then there are the perks: His two children going onstage with Jackson; autographed photos with Jackson; free concert tickets for the family; and travel bags, T-shirts and other freebies. They help keep the memories from fading like a tour bus as it drives into the distance. 'I wear my Michael Jackson raincoat every time it rains,' Dr. Finkelstein said.
(American Medical News)
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