These are tough times. While on one hand Israel is making great strides in terms of vaccinating its citizens and thus appears to have one foot out the door of the corona crisis, the number of sick, young and old, continues to climb sharply and speedily. The hospital wards are bursting at the seams and medical personnel are being stretched in every possible direction. Articles have been written giving an insider’s view of how the current situation is taking a physical and emotional toll on hospital staff, particularly those who work inside the corona ward. One article I read was about a particular nurse who was described as being unusually caring and giving by nature - the type who upon seeing a homeless man on the street, will go home only to return with warm food for him to eat and a blanket to cover him. This nurse expressed feelings of helplessness and guilt that she feels due to the fact that she is unable to provide more than the most basic care to her patients when she normally she is happy to go the extra mile, serve them tea, and just sit and listen to them. These days she doesn’t have an extra minute to provide the emotional support that her isolated and frightened patients so desperately need. She leaves the hospital crying every day. Dr. Ronni Gamzu, the CEO of Ichilov Hospital and previous coronavirus czar, choked up during a recent interview when discussing a tragedy that occurred in his hospital on Shabbos. Medical workers were handling a number of emergencies in the ICU and didn’t immediately notice when the ventilator of a 47-year-old patient disconnected. Tragically, the patient died as a result. Dr. Gamzu took responsibility for what happened.
Hospital employees are without question heroically doing the very best they can during these extenuating circumstances, yet they are left with pangs of guilt as they witness the shattering tragedies that surround them. Their broken hearts are very much in the right place and they deserve to be commended. Truth be told, it’s not just in corona times that these heroes shine. Our health care professionals extend themselves even during “normal” times.
It was exactly seven years ago when my niece gave birth to premature twins in her 26th week of pregnancy, both weighing in under two pounds. This was the beginning of a very difficult, stressful, and painful journey. The twins spent many harrowing months in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), their parents riding up and down on the turbulent wave of uncertainty as their conditions would improve and deteriorate. It took four days until my niece and her husband were even allowed to hold one of the babies. For the other, it took weeks. There were medications and intubations. There were surgeries and procedures, both scheduled and unscheduled. The family built a new life in the NICU and the staff became their extended family. The care and emotional support that the doctors and nurses offered my niece and her husband was no less than what they provided for the babies. They would give them encouragement, hugs, a listening ear, and love. They did all they could to alleviate some of the anxiety which was a constant companion of the family throughout the entire ordeal. I recall visiting the pediatric neurology ward when one of the babies had one of her numerous neurosurgeries. There was a heaviness in the department reflecting the tension felt by everyone there. Even the medical clown was unable to hold back her tears.
At one point, the babies were being cared for in two different hospitals. While tending to one, the parents got an emergency phone call about the other. They jumped in the car and flew over to the other hospital, calling the director of the department while on the way. This dedicated director, who was off from work at that time, dropped everything and arrived at the hospital even before they did. She stayed with them the entire night until the danger had finally passed, viewing this unusual display of dedication as just part of her job.
New preemies came and went but my niece’s family remained. Usually the preemies go home after 3-4 months. Otherwise, they graduate to the PICU (pediatric ICU). However, the NICU staff allowed one of the babies to stay for an unheard of eight months because they thought it would make life that much easier for the family. But the baby was growing and needed more stimulation than the NICU provides, so they set up a play corner for the baby, fully equipped with a crib, toys, a trampoline, and music, all designed to help her further develop. Who ever heard of such a thing? Baruch Hashem, the miracle babies eventually came home and the family was able to resume a normal lifestyle.
Another experience: My friend’s granddaughter is being treated in the pediatric oncology ward. Life as the family knew it was turned upside down as treatment often involves an obstacle course of terrifying crises. But this family, also, feels that the staff helps them in such unexpected and compassionate ways. Every day brings its own set of challenges, but on one particularly traumatic day, the mother, who handles the situation with strength and emunah, just fell apart. It was too much. Sensing that she needed her family to be around her, the head nurse invited the entire family to spend the next Shabbos in a hotel right near the hospital, on the house. Such a surprising and welcome offer. The staff also concerns themselves with the welfare of the entire family. At some point, they felt that the siblings needed some extra support and invited them into the hospital for a donut decorating workshop. This wasn’t an activity scheduled for a large group of children. The staff sensed their own particular need and provided the workshop just for them.
Medical challenges can be an extraordinarily trying experience for a family. But just like aromatic spices softened the terrible experience for Yosef Hatzaddik when he was sold and traveled down to Mitzrayim, the huge hearts of our health care professionals here in Israel also soften the trauma that their patients and families endure. They are truly like angels who appear in the most horrific of places to lend a hand and warm a heart.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.