Rivka Toledano, a religious emergency room nurse, has seen a lot in her time, but on one occasion, she recalls a miraculous occurrence that she personally witnessed while working in a Canadian hospital. It was a cold December night, in the middle of a snowstorm, which means the ER can get pretty crazy. Chanukah was starting that very night, and Rivka was looking forward to completing her shift and going home to light the menorah with her family.
Just before noon, a middle-aged couple walks into the ER. Mark Kramer, an overweight man, looks pale and sweaty. His wife Debbie anxiously explains that, despite her warnings, Mark had been shoveling the snow in their driveway. When he began to feel ill, she drove him straight to the ER, despite his protests that it wasn’t necessary.
Well, it definitely was necessary because, suddenly, right before their eyes, Mark collapses on the floor, the result of a massive heart attack. Alerted by his wife’s frantic screams, one of the senior doctors, Dr. Schwartz, rushes over and starts CPR, resuscitation, defibrillation and drugs for heart rhythm. Despite all these efforts to save him, Mark is still in cardiac arrest. There were no less than ten episodes of defibrillation.
Debbie remains glued to Mark’s side until Dr. Schwartz asks her to leave. Sobbing, she phones her children and her rabbi, frantically begging them to pray for Mark’s life.
Back in the ER, Dr. Schwartz looks grim, commenting that people don’t survive heart attacks with prolonged resuscitation, since sufficient oxygen can’t get to the heart or brain. Gently, he breaks the devastating news to Debbie: Mark probably won’t survive the day. Totally distraught, Debbie kept repeating herself, shouting at no one in particular. “I kept warning him not to shovel the driveway, telling him it wasn’t safe for a man his age to shovel snow, and to wait until our son got home or else borrow the neighbor’s snowblower. But he wouldn’t listen! How do I tell our kids they’ve lost their dad?” she cried hysterically, inconsolably.
Dr. Schwartz is not a religious Jew, but it was he who announced, “I’m so sorry. We’ve tried everything we could, but it’s not working. The only thing left to do now is pray.”
So that’s exactly what they did. The whole ER team, Dr. Schwartz, Rivka Toledano, and Debbie, all started praying together for Mark’s life, hanging so precariously in the balance.
Forty-five tense minutes pass in agonizing silence, but Mark still doesn’t have a pulse. Then, just when they’re about to sadly admit defeat, the miracle occurs. A machine up above starts beeping urgently. “We’ve got a pulse!” Dr. Schwarz calls out excitedly.
The ultrasound machine indicates that Mark has some cardiac activity, a tiny sign of life and hope. Awestruck, the ER team realizes they are witnessing a miracle right before their very eyes.
Debbie, tears flowing down her stricken face, murmurs, “Thank you, Hashem. Thank you, Hashem!” And then, as the holiday of Chanukah ushered in, she said, “Neis gadol hayah poe–A great miracle has occurred here.”
Dr. Schwartz cannot believe what he is seeing. Immediately, he sends Mark to the operating room for emergency heart surgery. He is very careful to caution everyone, “Though Mark is stable, and we are thankful for that, he is not out of the woods just yet, not by a long shot. We still need prayers for a good outcome.” Mark’s family, friends, and the rabbi of his local shul continue to pray fervently as surgeons perform open-heart surgery for three hours. As they say, there are no atheists in foxholes – or waiting outside an operating room, either.
A day and a half later, Mark wakes up to see Debbie and their children sitting anxiously around his hospital bed. He looks at them and says “Hi.” He is completely unaware of what happened to him.
Here’s a man who, the day before, had been totally blue – with more than one foot in the grave! With a 45-minute-long resuscitation, and ten bouts of defibrillation, the fact that he’s alive is truly unbelievable. By all standard measures, Mark should have died. But he didn’t. He survives physically and mentally, is sitting up and talking the next day. It is Chanukah, and as the dreidel spins, the letters on its side, which spell out, “A great miracle happened here,” is lost on no one!
Mark is released from the hospital in only ten days. Waiting for him in their driveway is a belated yet significant Chanukah gift from Debbie and their children: a new snowblower, decorated with a huge, red, heart-shaped bow. “My family and I realize that without those prayers going on that day, I wouldn’t be alive now,” said Mark Kramer. “Hashem spared me for some reason, and I will make an extra commitment to davening three times a day with a minyan!”
Rivka, the nurse, concludes: “I’ve seen many fascinating things during my years as an ER nurse, but this case was clearly a modern-day Chanukah miracle!”
(Adapted from Chanukah Miracle in the ER by Menucha C. Levin)