As I write these words, exactly seven days (almost to the minute) have passed since I was in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at JGH to have a life-saving stent put into my one damaged coronary artery. This was accomplished with extraordinary expertise and compassion by an incredible team of cardiologists, technicians and nurses, led by Dr. Dominique Joyal.
Today I feel so much better that I am cautious about the denial that can creep into one’s thoughts—that, in fact, I never really had a heart attack. However, with the support of my loyal team of cardiologists, nurses and home security guard (my wife,“Dr./RN” Dorothy Stern), I will be disabused of that notion quite quickly.
As many of you know, I am quite competitive and was on an early morning cycle, finishing with a climb to the top of the mountain, when I began to feel a little unwell. When I got home, I lay down for a few minutes’ rest and then had the worst pain imaginable in my chest. It was out of a textbook—clearly the pain of a myocardial infarction, a heart attack.
I was very fortunate that Dorothy was home. Although an architect by training, she reacted with the poise of a Valérie Pelletier, in complete control of a chaotic situation, by calling 911 and Dr. Marc Afilalo in sequence. I should add that at that point, I was reminding Dorothy about the location of our wills and that I loved her. It was only her calmness that allowed me to believe that perhaps I would survive.
When Urgences santé arrived, everyone was extremely professional and my mood improved. From that point on, through a veil of pain and fear—and despite a few (now humorous) moments when the ambulance’s engine would not start—I saw and felt a finely tuned machine swinging into action. I cannot emphasize enough how reassuring were the faces and words of Dr. Marc Afilalo, Johanne Boileau, Dr. David Langleben, Dr. Joe Portnoy, Valérie Pelletier and a host of others who I hope will forgive me for not remembering their names.
In the Cath Lab some 31 minutes later, there was again an incredible machine of efficiency. In addition to Dr. Joyal the magician, I remember two nurses’ faces, constantly whispering that I would be okay, while administering much-appreciated morphine. Finally, they said it was over, the stent was in—and suddenly, the pain was gone. I don’t remember their names, but I will always remember their faces and their voices…thank you.
In the Coronary Care Unit and subsequently on 2Northeast, I again received exceptional care. I was struck by the chemistry among the professionals. The nurses, M.D.s, EKG and Echo technicians, pharmacists, dietitians—all really respected one another and truly felt they were part of something special, a real team.
Many of the younger nurses, in particular, were not aware that I work at the JGH. So I knew that even though I initially may have had a little extra attention, truly every patient gets treated with great respect. One night, a 102-year-old gentlemen in the next bed was confused and frightened and, at times, even abusive to the nurses. Not once did I hear anything other than compassion and respect from the staff.
I also quizzed every nurse and technician (particularly those who did not know who I was) as to whether they liked their job, what they liked about it, whether they knew Joanne Coté, and what they thought of her. Each and every one responded that they loved their jobs, respected Joanne enormously, and could think of no other place they would rather work.
My closing comments relate first to the many well-wishers who have been so kind and supportive. I will, in time, try to thank each of you individually. Secondly, I must offer a few words to the cardiologists led by Dr. David Langleben, a true Chef d’orchestre, whose personal attention and leadership are exceptional. I have expressed my gratitude to Dr. Joyal; for his incredible skill and focus, merci. Finally, I must thank Dr. Caroline Michel who supervised my in-patient stay. I have been fortunate in my career to have met many fine physicians, but none who exemplify the combined intellect, empathy and communication skills better than Dr. Michel.
I will be back soon, having learned a great deal more about JGH—not in a way I would care to repeat, but with a renewed conviction that I am, indeed, a very fortunate man to have the best job anywhere. I give you my promise that I will not waste the opportunity.
Hartley Stern, M.D.