(with gratitude to the Eternal One as this is the first new essay I have written since mid April)
This year was the first time in my life I did not attend a Passover Seder. Instead Erev Pesach found me in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Vickie (my wife) was in San Francisco tending to her ninety-four-year old mother who was ailing. I planned to drive to New Jersey (From Connecticut where we live) to join the family Seder, but it didn’t turn out that way.
I woke up that Friday morning with a severe pain in my leg. I was not overly concerned when I called Vickie in California and told her. But she was.
She called our son Ben and asked him to come right over. When he got to our home, he immediately decided to call 911.
“No, I said. “Don’t call 911. What will the neighbors think if an ambulance comes here? It will be embarrassing.”
The next thing I remember was riding in an ambulance on my way to the hospital.
There they told me that my blood pressure had fallen dangerously low. They drew blood for tests and began to pump me full of intravenous fluids.
Early the next morning our family physician called Vickie to tell her, “You had better come home today.”
My older son, who lives in San Francisco came with her. They managed to get a flight and arrived at the hospital late that evening.
Events after that are a blur.
I remember an infectious disease doctor asking me questions that seemed ridiculous. “What’s your name?” “Do you know where you are?” “Do you know with whom you are speaking”’ When I looked at her incredulously, she asked, “Do you know why I am asking you these questions?
“Because,” she answered, “the profile on this chart shows a much sicker person then you are presenting to me in person.”
That was good news. The bad news was that I had a life-threatening strep infection centered in my left hip. “As soon as your blood pressure is high enough,” she continued,” they will operate to flush and drain the area.” They did two days later, and I have a long scar caused by nineteen stainless steel staples to show for it on the back of my thigh.
The other procedures I remember were a special kind of echocardiogram to be sure that neither my artificial aortic valve nor my pacemaker had been infected. They were not. Then they inserted a Peripheral Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) so that I could receive twice daily infusions of intravenous antibiotics. That process continued for six weeks.
On the seventh day of Passover I was released for rehab to the Hebrew Home and Hospital. I had visited the place dozens of times, but I never imagined I would one day be a patient there.
The physical therapy at the Hebrew Home was excellent, but it was a tough week. The best part of it was when my son and daughter-in-law smuggled a mushroom pizza into my room along with Flora, my not quite two-year-old granddaughter to mark the end of Passover.
The days since have been marked by thrice weekly visits to physical therapy and countless MD visits to the surgeon, primary care physician, and the infectious disease doctor.
May was supposed to be a big month for me.
I had several speaking engagements on my calendar, and joyous celebrations of a Bat Mitzvah in Cleveland and a graduation in Buffalo. But my doctor made clear: “You aren’t doing anything at all in May but rest and rehab”. And so it was.
This episode confronts me with lessons I have taught dozens of times over the years:
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. The world did not end because I had to cancel appearances in Rochester, NY, Springfield, NJ and Manchester, Hartford and Deep River, CT.
- Make each day count. We never know what tomorrow will bring.
Now we are in the middle of June, and though I have a ways to go, I am so much better. My caregivers all caution me not to rush things and to give my body all the rest it needs to heal completely.
I have followed their advice, but this past Shabbat Eve—with their approval–I took a huge step by speaking in public for the first time.
Although I was completely wiped out the next day, I was overjoyed. For the first time in more than six weeks I left home other than to go to a doctor, physical therapy, or the gym for my prescribed exercises.
I pray my recovery continues apace. In the next few days Vickie’s mother turns ninety-five and Flora will be two. I certainly don’t want to miss those wonderful occasions, and I look forward to celebrating Passover next year.