Ina Yalof, NY

Critically Acclaimed Writer

Ina, a medical sociologist by degree, has been writing books and articles about such diverse subjects as medicine, science, religion, and happiness for more than 30 years. Her fifteen published books include the widely acclaimed oral history Life and Death: The Story of a Hospital, What It Means to Be Jewish, How I Write (coauthored with Janet Evanovich), and What Happy Women Know. Her most recent oral history: Food and the City: New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It. As an oral historian, Ina believes every person on this Earth has a story.

As a Story Terrace writer, Ina interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

You’ve Gotta Have Heart

I remember seeing him in person for the first time at a party. His name was Victor Parsonnet and he was tall and thin and New Jersey’s top cardiac surgeon. I was 30 years old, a wife, mother, and die-hard hospital groupie, with a degree in Medical Sociology and no job. With a drink in one hand and carefully balancing a small plate of cheese puffs in the other, I approached him with some trepidation, introduced myself, and asked if one day I could watch him operate, (Yes, of course.) and maybe, perhaps, possibly work for him (No. No openings, sorry.).

Two weeks later, watching my first open heart surgery operation, from a gallery adjacent to the operating room, sent me over the moon. I had to see more! I had to work there. I had to! So I made an appointment with him and laid out a plan: If he’d give me a try, I’d work for five weeks for free, covering anyone on his team who was on vacation—coordinators, liaisons to referring cardiologists. I would run X-rays, be a hand holder to families in the waiting room. I would do research—anything I was even partially equipped to do. “Then,” I said, “after five weeks, we’ll have a meeting and if you think I’m a good fit for your team, you will hire me. If not, I’ll go away. How can you say no, when it will cost you nothing for five weeks of my time?” He couldn’t—say no, that is.

So for five weeks, I did scut work and research, I did patient visits and escorted visiting doctors, and in the end, he hired me. They gave me a lab coat and my own beeper, took me with them on patient rounds, and the surgical team subsequently taught me enough about open heart surgery that I could not only educate patients, but I could write a book. Open Heart Surgery: A guidebook for patients and families was published by Random House and ultimately started me on a writing career..

By the way, what Dr. Parsonnet and his team never learned was that up until my first day on the job, I didn’t know if you feed a fever and starve a cold or vice versa. Please keep this information to yourself… and thank you.

(That’s me in the middle in the black pants—my seventh year on the job. This was a group photo of the doctors and three of our summer interns.)

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