Monday, January 28, 2019

My My Fair Lady for 46 Years

To celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary Monday, I took my fair lady Gilda to Lincoln Center Sunday to see the revival production of My Fair Lady. I am in no way implying that under my tutelage Gilda transformed into the accomplished women she is today. But I will say that I have been there all along as she grew from a young woman who barely knew her way around the kitchen to as close to a gourmet cook you can be without certification. 

But cooking is in many ways a minor accomplishment compared to her professional development. I’m a fairly accomplished person in my own right. Despite my parents’ trepidation at my career choice as a journalist, I achieved some success as a newspaper reporter and then a business magazine editor and publisher. In terms of intellectual development and immeasurable contributions to public welfare and health, however, my story pales compared to Gilda’s.

When we first married in 1973 Gilda had a degree in political science from Brooklyn College, our joint alma mater. After moving to Seymour, Conn., part of my beat as a reporter for The New Haven Register, her degree qualified her for a job with a budding new industry: selling cable television hookups. It was a no-brainer. Cable offered some 20 station options versus the one to three most people in Seymour and the other towns of the Lower Naugatuck Valley could receive in their homes.

Not surprisingly, after a few months Gilda sought a higher calling. She fulfilled a decade old ambition to become a nurse. After two years she graduated at the top of her class at the University of Bridgeport and immediately was hired by Yale-New Haven Hospital. 

Offered a position on any patient floor, Gilda chose the newborn intensive care unit, a pioneering discipline that treated distressed babies born in a region roughly 100 to 150 miles around New Haven. She and a doctor would travel by ambulance to stabilize and then transport a newborn, often the size of an adult male’s hand, back to the NICU in New Haven. She worked there for two years.

What I didn’t mention was taking that job in the NICU was the start of a pattern of healthcare employment that has been central to her career. Prior to working in the NICU, Gilda had no experience with newborns, let alone those with complications so debilitating that she would come home semi-traumatized and in need of withdrawal through discussion over dinner. Of course, hearing about babies with unformed intestines, heart related issues or some other defect usually related to their premature birth was not the kind of dinner conversation I wanted to hear, so I stifled her release outlet. 

After we moved to Westchester Gilda again took a position without prior experience, this time as a step-down nurse in the Intensive Care-Cardio Care Unit at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. She left that job for the most important one any person can have, as a mother to her (our) children. 

During those next seven years she supplemented her mothering with part-time work as a pre-natal and post-partum instructor and as a nursery school teacher. In one area, she helped expectant and successful mothers understand and adapt to the changes their bodies were undergoing. In the other she helped shape their progeny.

Seeking a full-time position after Ellie started school, in early 1987 Gilda went for an interview for a post she admitted she was not qualified for. She went, she would tell you, because I suggested it would provide experience sitting through an interview. She got the job, serving for the next nine years as the research coordinator for the infectious disease department of New York Medical College and Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla. 

The ID department studied three of the most volatile illnesses of the time—hepatitis, Lyme Disease and HIV. From knowing virtually nothing about any of those diseases Gilda became expert in each of them. For example, she was part of the team that discovered HIV could not be transmitted through body sweat. She coordinated the Lyme clinic at the medical center. And, during those professionally challenging years she found time to serve two years as co-president of our children’s school PTA and also earned her Family Nurse Practitioner’s license.

Her next major job placement came in another area for which she lacked experience. Three spine surgeons at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan hired her in June 1998 to do pre- and post-operative patient assessments. In time, Gilda learned how to read MRIs, X-Rays and other diagnostic tests better than most doctors. Her skills were so appreciated by the surgeons that the transfer of their practice to Mount Sinai Medical Center was contingent upon their ability to bring Gilda with them.

Nearly 21 years after beginning as a neophyte in spine-related medicine Gilda retired as an expert earlier this month. For almost five decades she counseled the infirm and those who needed assistance. On numerous occasions she saved lives, mostly for friends and their families unrelated to her expertise in spine or infectious diseases. She became a “go-to” healthcare resource. She is now free to carve out new challenges, for I am sure she will not idly let her energies go unstructured. 

Forty-six years ago there was no way either of us could foresee how Gilda would spend her life. I have been blessed to have accompanied her ride. I am so proud of My Fair Lady.