AT HOME WITH INYAN
February 21, 2018
BY ALEX GANS
“Good morning. This is a nurse at the emergency room of Moses Taylor Hospital calling. We wanted to let you know the police brought your father in during the night.” So began our family’s medical saga involving my elderly father, at 5:30 a.m. that morning. My father had come the previous day from New York to spend the last few days of Sukkos with us at our Pennsylvania home – nothing out of the ordinary about that – until that early-morning phone call. My husband and I quickly put clothing over nightwear and literally ran to the hospital across the street from our house. There we learned how my father, who was supposed to have been asleep on the first floor of our home, ended up in the hospital.
It seems he awoke during the night, donned his Yom Tov clothing, took his lulav and esrog, and began walking the few blocks to shul for Shacharis. He didn’t get far because he began feeling ill on the next block, so he sat down on someone’s porch steps and started calling for help. One of the Nissim we were blessed with is that the woman of the house where he stopped heard an old, weak man’s cries for help. (She had been awake because of jet lag from a recent overseas trip.) She called the police, who wanted to take him to a different hospital, but she thankfully found out our name and address from my father while he was still coherent; therefore, she suggested they take him to the nearby hospital – a big brachah, since it was Yom Tov. It turned out my father had pneumonia, which explained his confusion. When the situation was under control, my husband left for shul while I stayed with my father until he was settled in a regular room. I was about to leave, as I was expecting guests, when suddenly my father’s breathing sounded like pebbles were rattling around in his chest. I rushed out to summon a doctor and “happened” to meet a friend who was a doctor in that hospital. My father was sent to the Intensive Care Unit, where he was put on a respirator and hooked up to seemingly every machine ever been invented. Unfortunately, he lapsed into a coma and remained comatose for three weeks. During that time I was running a hotel for my siblings, taking care of my small children, and doing what anyone with a relative in the hospital must – essentially keeping on top of what was going on 24/7 to avoid any errors in treatment. (In fact, we had a close call.)
Throughout my father’s stay in the ICU, the medical staff repeatedly confronted us (even calling my husband’s workplace) with variations of these questions: “What are you doing to your father? He’s an old man! Why don’t you let him go peacefully? He’ll never have quality of life.” One Erev Shabbos all my siblings and their spouses were present (including my sister from Eretz Yisrael, who sat at his bedside day and night) when my father’s heart needed shock treatment for the second time. The head ICU doctor somberly explained how sick our father was, and reiterated how it would be best to just “let him go.” He turned to one of my brothers-in-law, pointed to his hat, and said, “If your father recovers, I’ll eat your hat!” I called my Rav to ask, “What do I daven for now?” The hope for survival seemed so futile that I honestly didn’t know what to daven for. The Rav said to definitely daven for a refuah sheleimah, and that the doctors should continue to treat him. Fortunately, our private doctor, a non-Jew, couldn’t have been more attentive and willing to do as we requested. After a while, my father was weaned off the respirator but was still comatose. The situation remained basically static. There was a family member with my father virtually around the clock, except when we got the phone call informing us that my father had come out of the coma. We converged at the hospital to find my father sitting up! A nurse told us what happened when she had walked past my father’s bed. He had shocked her by saying, “Hey, you, get me out of here!” Then he said, “My name is Joseph Balsam. I’m in the Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania” – precisely the words we had been repeating over and over to my father, as we held his hand and spoke to him while he was comatose.
We had been feeling somewhat foolish talking to him because he was totally unresponsive. But now, I make it a point to share this with anyone who has a relative in a coma: Keep talking to the patient, but avoid saying anything negative because he or she can hear you!
My father’s physical and cognitive abilities were very gradually restored. Several months after his release from the hospital, my sister and I had a blast baking a cake in the shape of a hat with a bite taken out of it. Carrying the cake, I walked with my father into the ICU, where he received a hero’s welcome. He had no recollection of his stay there, but the medical personnel certainly remember him. They were very appreciative that I brought him to visit, as they don’t usually have the opportunity to personally see the outcome of their patients’ illnesses. Thus, despite the dire predictions of the medical staff, baruch Hashem, my father had a complete recovery. He was able to attend his Daf Yomi shiur and enjoy his grandchildren until he was niftar two years later from an unrelated illness.
In addition to our personal medical miracle, two more wonderful things occurred as a result of my father’s recovery: One of the doctors who had cared for my father, a non-believing Jew, told my family, “I noticed you were praying a lot while you were here. Can I give you a list of my patients at the other local hospital to pray for?” We felt we had made a kiddush Hashem among the hospital personnel. Secondly, when my friend’s elderly aunt was in the other local hospital and her very critical condition caused some family members to lose hope, the staff said to them, “There was a dangerously ill elderly patient at the Moses Taylor Hospital who recovered. You shouldn’t give up hope.”