The Found Passover

 

IMG_0854

Above: 19 staples in my left thigh

 

Two years ago I described this sacred Jewish season as “The Lost Passover!”

It was the first time in my entire life that did not attend a Passover Seder. Instead I was fighting for my life at the Hospital of Central Connecticut. A strep infection of unknown origin centered itself in my left rear thigh and was poisoning my body.

“Come home today!”

My doctor called Vickie who was tending to her mother in San Francisco at the time and said, “You had better come home today.”

It required surgery to drain, nineteen steel staples to close the wound and massive doses of antibiotics administered intravenously for six weeks after my surgery.

The only acknowledgment I was able to give Passover was to attend Yizkor services at the Hebrew Home and Hospital Rehab Center of Greater Hartford, where I spent a week after my release from the hospital. At Passover’s close, my son Ben smuggled in a pizza, so I could end the festival-long period of not eating leavened products in style.

Then I endured months of physical therapy to learn how to walk again and gradually return to normal activities.

By the end of summer, thankfully, I felt fine.

The following Passover I signed on to be the Rabbi on a cruise from the Port of Bayonne, NJ to the Bahamas and back. The sea did not part as it did for our ancestors, but as I conducted the Seder, our ship sailed comfortably atop its waves.

Now, another year later, I only remember this life-threatening incident when something or someone reminds me of it. Those days in the hospital and in the rehab center, the weeks being tethered to an IV antibiotics dispenser, and the sometimes-arduous PT routine are a blur.

This year, we are blessed to be in Sanibel where I am rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands. My health is restored to the point where I just completed a 13-1 season as part of the number one duo on the Beachview Tennis Club Blue tennis team.

More importantly it was my privilege to conduct a Seder for 176 people on the first night of the Passover Festival.

My two-year journey from “The Lost Passover” to the one I found awaiting me in Sanibel now seems like a dream. But the photo at the top of this essay will always remind me that it was not. That photo reminds me that every day is special. Every day is a sacred opportunity to try to make some small difference in some small way in somebody’s life.

Turning a communal dinner into a journey participants make from slavery to freedom, from degradation to dignity is a privilege I no longer take for granted.

The privilege is not just in leading the rituals. The privilege is helping people understand that during the Seder we re-experience slavery and our journey to redemption in order to help–in whatever way we can—others make the same journey.

Slavery abounds in our world:

Human trafficking, addiction, thoughtless greed, sweatshop conditions in many countries, homelessness, disease, lack of affordable health care, gun violence and abject poverty, are just some of the forms of bondage that afflict so many even today.

We shall not all cure cancer or make peace between warring nations, but if we put our mind to it, each of us will find something we can do.

To that let me add: If there is something you are thinking of doing to help another person in any way, do it today. My lost Passover taught me that tomorrow may be too late.

My latest book, Who Created God? And Other Essays (compiled and edited by Susan Marie Shuman) is now available on AMAZON https://tinyurl.com/y9tawrln and through my website, http://www.rabbifuchs.com

The Lost Passover

(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?

“No.”

“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.