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When my father died, my employees actually kicked me out of my own store. They said, "Jery, you're lost and you need to find yourself." So I started exploring going back into nursing while my dear soulmates of my store, who I really consider my family, my extended family, nurtured that part of my life. I thought, you know, it's gotten worse than it was. Medicine had gone in the direction that I had feared. Something's not right here. I don't feel comfortable doing this.
There was a friend of mine who was a clinical perfusionist in open heart surgery at Columbia, someone I had known for many years. I asked him about it. He said, "Why don't you come down to Columbia and see?" So a clinical perfusionist is the individual who operates the heart-lung machine. The person who keeps the patient alive during open heart surgery, transplants and the likes. There's only 2,500 in the nation. It really intrigued me. It was at the pinnacle. It was at the heart of things. Figuratively, metaphorically, and of all reality. By that time, mind you, I'm 39 going to be 40. My business career was doing very well. So when I saw this I thought just maybe this was the right thing to go into. Maybe somebody would listen to me about comprehensive care, about how I could help patients, specifically heart patients and their family members -- as a tribute to my father -- because I wasn't able to access my own.
I put my application in and was one of eight selected, out of a field of 170, for the program. Suddenly, I looked at my wife and said, "Oh shit, now what?" So I asked her if she wanted to take over the business. We honed it down from two stores to one. That was manageable. I went off to perfusion school, and lived away. My son was off doing his thing, off in school. My nearest peer in the group was 16 years my junior so it was a pretty interesting experience going through clinical perfusion, being away from my wife, only coming home on weekends, helping her with the business. But I was nurturing this other thing in me that was a passion. It was driving me.
Clinical perfusion is very scientific and technical. There's little patient contact. The night of our graduation party, my clinical director, this Ph.D. who's renowned in physiology, looked at me and asked, "Why? Just why do you want to do this when you have this whole other life?" I said, "Do you really want to know? I want to find a young surgeon who will listen to my ideas and dreams of comprehensive care and just maybe we can make a difference in people's lives." He goes, "You've got to be kidding me!" I said, "Nope. That's just my intention."
Lo and behold, one of my clinical sites was Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center that I rotated through. At that point in time, when I was going through my own training, Mehmet Oz was also in training as a fellow. Me being a student and him being a fellow, there's very little communication. You don't even know that the other person exists.
I was then offered the job at Columbia. My store still goes on in Kingston, New York. I told my wife we have to move closer to Manhattan because I have to be within an earshot of the operating room, for being on call. So we moved down south, just outside Nyack, in the Orangeberg/Piermont area. I was about three months into the job, I was the primary perfusionist on a case. After the operation is over, we normally give a drug called Protamine that reverses the anti-coagulation of another drug called Heparin. Heparin allows us to do cardio-pulmonary bypass. There was an adverse reaction with the Protamine. It's not too uncomon. It's seen. And this person needed to be stabilized on bypass for about 45 minutes to an hour. That's normally the routine. When this occurred the surgeon on the case was Dr. Mehmet Oz. So here we are just waiting for the patient to stabilize and the chest is wide open and Mehmet comes into the room. As you know, he's like a one-Mehmet unit and we're a mere fraction of his energy level. He comes flying in and looks at the patient's chest and says, "I knew we should have used subliminals on this patient." I went, "What??"
In the operating room all you can really see are eyes. That's all you can see because everything else is covered. So he turned around and looked at me and I really saw that this guy was for real. This just wasn't hokus pokus. He really was talking from his heart and through his eyes. And with that, I just started letting lose with all these years of stuff that has been in me, and we're bantering back and forth for about 45 minutes about the exciting possibilities of how this could potentially help patients. After that, both of us stopped. The room was totally quiet. We heard that there wasn't a sound. We turned around and there were seven pairs of fearful eyes looking at us. We realized, back five years ago now, that that was not the appropriate time or place to talk about things that people just didn't understand. They had a different perception about what we were talking about than what we really meant.
That's how Mehmet and I got together. He pulled me out and he goes, "Do you want to get involved in a hypnotherapy study?" I said "Yes." We did hypnotherapy with our cardiac patients. After two months of doing that I said, "Mehmet, you know, I have a dream." So he said, "Pen it out." So I penned out my comprehensive design of what's now called The Department of Complementary Services of the Center that has five arms.