Last Friday night, sitting at my Shabbos table with my family and guests, I had no idea that the following Friday night would be a very different, very frightening experience.
The week began with the usual bustle and getting ready for work. It was at the first school on Monday when I started feeling a little unwell. I had a stuffy nose and I felt drained and achy. The secretary saw me and suggested I leave and go home.
“Oh, I’m okay,” I said. I still had another school after this one to go to.
I remember on the way home, when I was driving, I kept coughing. I tend to get a bad cough every winter so I just figured it was the usual bad cough and I would fight it off.
On Tuesday morning, I had a headache and I was still achy everywhere; and with the cough and not sleeping well, I decided to stay home. I was proud of myself. I went to the doctor. He gave me medicine for the cough and I figured I’d be back and running the next day.
Only, when Wednesday dawned, I felt achy and congested and very nauseous. The thought of eating and drinking was just not a possibility. I had this persistent cough that wouldn’t let up and it was hard to move out of bed. I decided to stay home from the two Wednesday schools.
Surely by tomorrow I would feel better.
Thursday dawned and I felt worse. My back ached, my head hurt. I kept coughing and my stomach felt empty and painful. Why wasn’t I getting better? Why wasn’t the cough going away? And why did all drinks taste so horrible? I wanted to drink; but when I tried drinking anything, it just tasted too bad.
On Friday morning, I called my doctor and told him I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. I was so dizzy and nauseous. He said I should go to the Emergency Room and get hydrated.
I didn’t like that idea at all. I hate going to the doctor, and going to an emergency room is definitely something I want to avoid.
“Keep drinking liquids,” he warned, “if you don’t go.”
I tried sipping water. I tried apple juice. Everything tasted horrible and I couldn’t stand drinking it.
Later that afternoon, when my husband came home from work, I told him I wasn’t feeling well.
He noticed that I wasn’t able to get out of bed and I wasn’t really able to drink much.
“Should we go to the Emergency Room?”
“No,” I said.
“Then you better drink a lot. You don’t want to get dehydrated.”
So, Friday night swept in and he lit the candles for me. He ate downstairs with some of our children. Food was not something I wanted right now.
The waves of nausea and dizziness persisted.
I tried to suck on ice chips. It wasn’t helping. I davened for help. I didn’t remember feeling this awful since I had pneumonia when I was at Stern College a century ago.
On Friday night, at around two a.m., I realized that I was really scared and really getting dehydrated. I woke up coughing. I couldn’t move because I was too dizzy. My tongue felt so dry and parched. I wanted a drink but I couldn’t drink anything.
I realized I should have gone to the Emergency Room before Shabbos. Now what?
“Do you want to go now?” my husband asked.
“Yes,” I surprised myself.
I somehow managed to slip on a skirt and top with a sweatshirt.
“We’ll have to call Hatzolah.”
“No, it’s too embarrassing.”
“It’s an emergency,” he said. “They’ll get us right in.”
Hatzolah came at three in the morning. I apologized for waking them up on Shabbos. They were so kind. There was no traffic and the trip from Kew Gardens Hills to NewYork-Presbyterian was less than ten minutes.
The Emergency Room was not crowded. We assumed we would get seen soon. I felt horrible. I didn’t realize I could still feel even worse. We waited almost three hours. I was feeling more and more awful. I had no energy. I was extremely nauseous and dizzy. I was ready to give up on anyone helping me feel better.
Finally, we were brought to the back. The experience after that was also quite an adventure. Next to us was a man who had handcuffs on his ankles and two police officers watching him. Apparently, he was under arrest. On the other side was a man with pneumonia. You heard everyone’s diagnosis because the only separation was curtains. The man with pneumonia kept singing one line from a song. It didn’t bother me too much at first, but after the 15th time it was a bit annoying. I tried not to worry about it.
The nurses on duty were very nice and efficient. They took my blood pressure a bunch of times and gave me a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. They also gave me a blood test and a flu test. That flu test was extremely uncomfortable as they stick a swab way up your nose. Ouch!
While we were waiting for the results, the nurse was having some trouble with a different patient. He refused to put on the hospital gown, and she explained patiently that she couldn’t give him an IV in street clothes. He kept arguing and she kept explaining that there was a rule and it had to do with infections. She repeated herself some ten times, and he just kept getting more and more angry. He took her no personally and shouted that it was a racial thing. You need a lot of patience to be an Emergency Room nurse.
The doctor came and told me I had the flu and he would give me anti-nausea medicine, Tamiflu, and IV liquids. Now I’m not fond of needles, but at this point I felt relieved. I knew I was going to finally get hydrated.
In the meantime, it was 7:30 a.m. and my husband had to decide about walking back for shul. “Go,” I said. “They depend on you.” I knew Kesser Torah needed him to come and give the d’var Torah. He hesitated.
I did note that it was a bit creepy here. He pointed out that there were two police officers next to me.
While he was gone, I got the IV liquids. I started to feel a little better. Around this time, the man with ankle cuffs was escorted out with handcuffs, as well. The singing man continued to sing, and the man yelling at the nurse worked out a compromise so he could get an IV.
The next patient next to me was a young woman. The doctors came in to tell her news, and I was shocked to hear them say that she had suffered a minor heart attack and there was some damage to her heart.
I immediately burst into tears. I felt so bad for this young woman. They then told her their plan of action, which sounded very hopeful. I pulled out my T’hilim and davened for her. Maybe I was there for that reason.
Time moved slowly. Eventually, my husband came back and he told me that my color looked better. Baruch Hashem.
The flu kept fighting me the next few days and I fought back. I drank gallons of lemon tea and quarts of apple juice with ice chips. My nose turned as red as a ripe tomato. My eyes were all watery. I looked awful, so I tried to avoid looking in the mirror.
Then, baruch Hashem, on Tuesday morning, it was like magic. The uninvited guest left. I wasn’t nauseous anymore. I could eat a normal breakfast. I was still coughing like crazy, so I stayed home another day from work.
I learned some important lessons from this whole ordeal. Firstly, get a flu shot. I should have. I know it doesn’t always work, but anything that might have prevented this would have been wonderful. Secondly, I appreciate the wonderful Hatzolah organization and the doctors and nurses in the ER at NewYork-Presbyterian, who are kind and efficient and do a good job.
Of course, I appreciate my amazing family and friends and the kind phone calls and good wishes. And I appreciate good health. Thank you, Hashem, for all the times when everything is working well and there is no flu.
By Susie Garber