The following is a true account, with names and details changed to safeguard privacy. In no way should halachic or medical decisions be made based on it.
"What else should I take?" Sara asked me over the phone. "How about ear plugs, in case it's noisy at night?" I suggested.
It was Sunday morning. That night, Sara was going to check into the hospital in preparation for surgery the next day. She was very anxious, to put it mildly. A traumatic experience in her family during childhood had left her with deep qualms about entering the operating room. Add to that the regular nervousness a person feels before surgery and there you have it: Sara was frazzled.
I had called her to wish her luck, give her some chizuk and reassure her that the shifts were arranged and in order. Oh, I forgot to mention one little thing: Sara's last name is Katz. This seemingly minor detail was going to change both mine and Sara's lives drastically over the next few weeks.
A couple of days before, I had received a call from Sarah's husband, Moshe. "Mrs. Hirsh? I'm terribly sorry to bother you." (I was to hear this phrase repeat itself many times in the coming days.) "Do you remember a few months ago, when my wife was not feeling well and you called to offer help?"
Remember? Sure! I had specifically called Moshe Katz, guessing that Sara wouldn't accept my offer in order not to impose on anyone. I had offered any sort of assistance they would need, and found out at the time that Rabbi Katz carried the same "do not impose" gene as his wife. But now, it seems he wanted to `cash in' on my offer.
As a kohen, Rabbi Katz [acronym for Kohen Tzeddek] is forbidden to be under the same roof as a dead person. Therefore, he would be unable to enter the hospital and be with his wife during surgery or even visit her afterwards. This was where I would come in: he wanted me to call a few women from the neighborhood and arrange for someone to be by Sara's bedside before and after surgery, as well as for the regular visiting the day or two after.
Sara's sister, Rochel, would stay with her during the operation, but would be unable to stay in the hospital for extended hours. I was given four local names, as well as those of two good friends from out of the area. All this I scratched down on scrap paper, next to the cell phone numbers of Rabbi Katz, his wife and her sister. Hashem was putting the pieces of the picture in place.
Arranging the shifts for the next few days wasn't too bad, but took a bit of juggling. The first four names I was given were used up pretty fast. Another person backed out due to illness and I managed to fill the gap with someone I met at a wedding that night. My little scrap of paper was soon joined by another, as the names and phone numbers were scribbled down and daily schedules formulated. Visitors were all set up through Wednesday, as we assumed Sara would be leaving the hospital by Thursday morning.
The operation went well and the good news took on wings and flew around the neighborhood. We all breathed a sigh of relief, as we thought, with our narrow vision, that all was in order.
The phone rang shrilly at four p.m. on Tuesday. It was Chaya, our lady on the 3- 5 p.m. shift. "Sara's been rushed into emergency surgery. She's been in a lot of pain all day and though the tests so far are not conclusive, they are going in to find out what went wrong."
I was in shock. How could this happen? "Chaya, are you okay over there?" Expecting to sit placidly by Sara's bedside, Chaya was now running down corridors as Sara was being prepped once again for surgery, the second time in twenty- four hours.
"Don't worry. I'm fine. Being in a hospital is not new to me. Listen, I spoke to her husband. You try to reach her sister. Be in touch. Bye."
I hung up. The phone rang right away. It was Sara's sister, sounding very distraught. "What's this message I got? Sara's going into surgery? Again?" My heart went out to both Sara and her poor sister. I filled her in on what I knew and told her that someone capable was with Sara right now so she didn't have to rush unnecessarily. I hung up but the phone rang immediately. It was Chaya. Sara had just entered the operating room.
"Listen," I told her. "Rochel sounds really upset. Maybe you could stay with her a bit. I don't know how she will manage this alone."
Chaya was in agreement. "I planned on staying. No problem." Bless you, Chaya.
Chaya stayed throughout the whole operation, saying Tehillim, hounding anyone in a white/green coat who entered or exited the operating theater, and handling phone calls on her cell phone. Meanwhile, my phone didn't stop ringing: What happened? How is Sara? How long will the surgery take? Do they know what it is?
I tried to handle all the inquiries as quickly and as succinctly as I could while serving supper and putting the little ones to bed. My mind was elsewhere, in a waiting room outside OR-2. Finally, Chaya called with the news: Sara was out of surgery and everything was fine. It took over three and a half hours, but Sara's life was saved. Boruch Hashem!
The flood of phone calls and arrangements continued unabated for the next three days. My two scrap papers were joined by two more, and I refused to believe this would last more than a week. Truth is, I hardly had to call anyone. It seemed like the entire community was concerned about Sara's condition. The phone became permanently affixed to my ear and my children got used to the sight. They, in fact, became very involved, as they were living the saga daily.
"Mommy, how is your friend doing?" they asked as soon as they walked in from school. "We davened for her today."
With each passing day, Sara was slowly mending. Speaking to her on Thursday, I thought she sounded pretty good and in high spirits. Things would only get better...
No one was prepared for what happened on Friday morning.
[Final part next week]