By Arthur Z. Schwartz
I woke up on the last Saturday in January feeling awful. As I have told WestView readers before, once you survive heart surgery, you develop a heightened awareness of what is going on in your heart. On January 28th, my heart said, “Code Red.” The first decision was where to go. I live a block from Northwell Lenox Health Greenwich Village, so I figured that would be the fastest way to get an EKG. I went there and told the guy at the front desk, “I think I am having a heart attack.” He told me to have a seat and I responded, “Did you hear what I said? I said heart attack!” He got up, grabbed a nurse, and they took me right into a room. They hooked up an EKG machine, and immediately a technician said, “Yes, yes.” I said, “Yes what?” and got no answer. Someone then said: “You are going in an ambulance to the Beth Israel Cath Lab.” Fearing that doctors are leaving Beth Israel, I replied, “Can’t I go to NYU?” They said, “No, we don’t have an arrangement with NYU.”
I then get wheeled, on a gurney, and enter the ambulance. The EMT asks my name, and I in turn ask, “Am I having a heart attack?” He responds, “You are in the middle of one.” So, my brain rotates among three related thoughts—that I could die any second, is one. The second is how my chances of living are reduced because I must be driven all the way to 1st Avenue to receive treatment. The third is how much worse my chances would be two or three years from now if Beth Israel closes. At least the second and third thoughts keep me from focusing on the first.
I arrive at Beth Israel and the EMTs wheel me up to the Cardiac Cath Lab—which is closed. They then take me down to the Emergency Room, where I see my son Jacob and yell, “Get me out of here!” Of course he can’t. Soon, I am immersed in wires and IVs and, within minutes, I get transferred to the now-open Cath Lab, where they run a wire up to my heart and then sedate me big time. Someone sticks some consent papers near me, I sign, and they add two stents to my heart. Most importantly, I AM ALIVE! And my heart, which suffered some damage, is functioning well.
One can write intellectually about hospital closings and how additional minutes in an ambulance can cost lives. From now on, though, I will write from “the heart.” If Beth Israel hadn’t been here (I am writing from my hospital bed), I might not be alive, or, the damage to my heart might have been more extensive. Of course, it would have been even better if Northwell Health Greenwich Village were a full-service hospital.
I will share my tale at the next Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan Meeting on Monday, February 13th at 6:30pm. Besides discussing how to respond to the latest outrage involving Donald Trump, we will continue to develop a plan to keep Beth Israel open, and to return a hospital to the West Village.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.