Romance in a hospital room

Proposal Of the many things Renee Atherley, PA’13, has come to know about her significant other, Jeff Messerly, D.O.’14, is his inability to be dishonest. “And I can read him pretty well, so I didn’t think he’d ever be able to surprise me,” she says. That’s what makes Messerly’s marriage proposal to her last November not only romantic but also deviously brilliant. At the time, he was in an obstetrics/gynecology rotation in Minneapolis; she was in a surgery rotation at Covenant Clinic in Waterloo, IA. On call that weekend, she was assisting her preceptor, Neil McMahon, M.D., with a late-afternoon surgery after which, he informed her, they’d be going to Sartori Memorial Hospital in nearby Cedar Falls for another possible surgery.

Before they left, McMahon told her to first round on patients, including a new admit with esophageal cancer in Room 501: “Write a note on him, and I’ll come up to read your note,” Atherley recalls his instructions. “Make sure to change out of your scrubs, because we’re going to head straight to Sartori from there.”

On the fifth floor, though, Atherley couldn’t find the new patient’s records in the computer system, and the chart was empty outside the closed door of Room 501. The nurses told her they hadn’t had time to make a chart or upload the patient’s information.

Little did she know, McMahon and the nurses were partners in Messerly’s plot. “I let the nurses in on the secret so that when Renee went up there, she could get the same answer,” McMahon says. “She is very complete, so I knew I needed their covering for me when I sent her to see a fake patient.”

The oblivious yet diligent Atherley decided to talk to the patient while the nurses supposedly worked on his chart. But instead of a cancer sufferer, she discovered a room adorned in roses and Christmas lights, rose petals strewn on the floor, a box of chocolates on the bed and her beau on one knee.

“I was in shock and instantly burst into tears,” she says. Once she regained her composure, she accepted his proposal – a July 27 wedding is in the works – and got the scoop on his strategy.

“He had been talking with the surgeon on and off all day to make this day possible,” she says. “Jeff also asked if I could have a few hours off, so he could take me to a nice restaurant. He pulled it off, he planned an amazing night and I was very surprised.”

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