On Thursday of last week, I got the call that over the holiday my father had taken` a turn for the worse. I was lucky enough to speak to the doctor who was at my father’s bedside. He described my father’s symptoms, explaining that he was a “very, very sick man.” When he started to talk about intubation, I knew that I had to go.
I called our travel business friend Stuart, who put me on a 1 am flight to JFK. It was 11:30 PM. By midnight I was at Ben Gurion. I kept it together until I reached the check-in line. No one was there and when I ducked under the line separators the woman-who-asks-you-if-you-had-packed-a-bomb yelled at me. And I promptly burst into tears. She felt terrible and then told me (after asking me all those security questions) I could go right through. Which would have been helpful, except that I was the only one left checking in at that point.
It was an uneventful flight, thankfully. I wasn’t sure exactly what the plan was when I got to New York, but I thought I would take a taxi straight to the hospital and then figure the rest of it out. But when I got out, to my utter relief, my friends Nadine and Carol were there to greet me and help me sort out my plan for Shabbat. They took me to Nadine’s home where I showered while they bought food for me for Shabbat. Then I was driven to the hospital by Stuart.
Is there anything in the world as sweet as friendship?
When I finally got to see my father, after 2 ½ years, it was devastating. He was inert and barely stirred at the sound of my voice. He did not open his eyes. He was thankfully, not intubated, but was one step away from it. A doctor explained to me that since my father had not left any instructions as to what to do, and since neither had the next-of-kin (that would be my mother), that by default he would be intubated if the medical staff felt it was necessary to keep him alive. When I asked if there was any possibility of my father recovering from this illness, or if there was any way of knowing what his cognitive functioning was like, the doctor said he did not know yet. Some tests were being performed that could help answer those questions, but it could be some time before we had any results and my dad may require intubation first.
I spoke to my father’s Rav, who has been our family Rabbi all my life. He promised to get back to me with some answers. I knew that my mother, who never watches shows like Grey’s Anatomy, had no clue where to begin with all this, and that my father would have wanted rabbinical guidance.
I stayed with my father for several hours. I arranged to stay in an apartment maintained by the Satmar Bikur Cholim over Shabbat. I then went to take my stuff to the apartment, and get it ready for Shabbat. And when I returned to the hospital, the nurse told me my father had awakened and was speaking. The relief I felt was enormous.
Oh, he was still “very, very sick”. But when the nurse asked him who I was, he answered clearly, “my daughter”; and when she asked my name, he said, “Baila”. I cannot describe to you the joy this gave me. Now, no matter what the future holds, I know that my father knows that I dropped everything to see him.
It’s been a few days now. My father seems to be getting stronger. When the doctor asks him those are-you-oriented-questions, it goes something like this: Sir, do you know where you are?
I’m in the hospital and I want to go home.
What year is it?
Who is here with you?
And I feel liked he aced the master exam.
It’s not easy or fun to keep vigil. As he gets stronger, he gets more demanding (“No, Daddy, you can’t have matzah”) and at times belligerent. He’s been in a bed for about 4 weeks now and I think he’s going stir-crazy.
I can’t say I’ve always been the best daughter in the world. But as I sit here, knowing I’m doing the right thing, hoping that it maybe starts to make up for who I’ve been, I can honestly say there is no place else I’d rather be. (Update: I wrote this a few days ago, before I had internet access and could post it. In the interim, my father has taken a turn for the worse and is, in fact intubated. Your prayers would be appreciated. His hebrew name is Moshe ben Devora Breindel).