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Life-saving efforts by hospital staff hard to sum up in a survey

Christine Brakel and her husband, James Wegrzyn, of

Christine Brakel and her husband, James Wegrzyn, of Brightwaters. Credit: Brakel family

Unlike my husband, Jim, I welcome chances to provide opinions and suggestions about goods and services. At times my suggestions have been met with querulous resistance and at others, with appreciation.

But, receiving a feedback questionnaire from the hospital where I was treated during the final week of February, rendered me speechless.

It’s admirable that hospital management wants to learn their patients’ opinions, but I found it woefully unsatisfactory to “fill in the circle completely” when I’m alive — solely and completely because of the care I received at that hospital.

On Feb. 21, Jim and I went for our usual Tuesday morning run with friends in and around our neighborhood of Brightwaters and West Islip. After visiting the rest room in Gardiner County Park, I began to feel as if my chest was being crushed by an insistent, unrelenting, ever-tightening vice.

Being midway between hospitals in Bay Shore and West Islip, we decided to go east to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

I was covered in sweat as we pulled up to a brand-new Emergency Room entrance and stumbled into ER reception. I was offered a wheelchair and whisked off to a triage cubicle, but they were unable to attach electrodes for an EKG because my chest was soaked with sweat.

I lost consciousness, only regaining enough awareness eventually to realize I was on a gurney, being pushed by a troop of white-coated attendants. I was able to hear, see and feel someone remove my watch and give it to Jim, and then I could feel my running tights and underwear being cut from my body by scissor-wielding attendants on my left and right sides.

I have no recollection of the two electric shocks that restored my heartbeat when it stopped during their efforts to find the source of myocardial infarction, drill through the blockage and insert a stent.

With Jim at my side, I woke up in the cardiac intensive care unit to the comforting attentions of the first of the wonderful registered nurses and support staff who helped me over the next three days before I was discharged from the cardiac ward on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 25.

Everything went without incident until I’d been in the ICU for about eight hours. Recovering enough to use the toilet rather than a bed pan, I was helped back into bed when, seconds after the wires and leads that went from the sticky pads on my body and the oxygen detector on my forefinger to the monitor were untangled, like a lightning bolt in a cloudless sunny sky, my blood pressure and heart rate both plummeted to around 30 and I was “gone” until I opened my eyes to find my ICU cubicle filled with people, all white-faced and wrinkle-browed.

I’d been snatched from the clutches of death once more, this time by the drug atropine. The chorus of attendees were video conferencing with a disembodied expert that I could see on the video screen, and who, I assume, could see me and the doctor-in-charge at my bedside.

They discussed attaching a temporary pacemaker, but my vital signs had regained a semblance of normalcy and a watchful, cautious decision put the pacemaker on hold. The next three-and-a-half days were without event, and I was released.

Having survived such close brushes with death, it’s inconceivable that I could straightforwardly reduce this experience to rating the hospital’s (rubber) chicken dinners; how long it took someone to respond to the call button; or the courtesy of the person who took my personal and insurance information.

I’m here, able to write this essay, solely because of everything that happened, beginning the instant I reached the emergency room reception area.

Other than never having to require their services, there is absolutely nothing I’d recommend changing about my hospital experience. There’s nothing I can say that can ever adequately thank everyone for all they did for me, but I hope they see this piece and know that I’m writing about them.

Christine L. Brakel


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