Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Phone Call

The following post might bother some people, because they might suddenly have a different impression of me.

What can I say?

I'm me. And I do what I have to do. I did what I felt I had to do. Wanted to do.

And this blog is my confessional box, and this post is serving as my confession.

Last Friday night, we made early Shabbos -- our shul davens early, and my husband came home early. We sang "Shalom Aleichem" and my husband had just finished singing "Aishet Chayil." I told him that although we always made kiddush and bentched while growing up, we didn't do Aishet Chayil and not even Shalom Aleichem. We had a step in Orthodoxy but most of the time I guess we were in Conservative Judaism.

Just after I made this statement, the telephone rang. Nobody of real importance to us calls us on Shabbos because people who know us know we're observant and wouldn't answer, but my husband looked over at the call display and saw my parents' name and phone number and announced it with a questioning tone to his voice.

We'd both spoken to my parents before Shabbos and they would not use the phone, (times have changed in their household) and especially not to call us...unless it was an emergency.

When Pesach rolled around, my husband had decided to forward our home phone calls to his cell phone, so as not be bothered by ringing house lines on Yom Tov or Shabbos. But we'd told my mother if there was ever an issue, to call my cell phone number (I rarely get calls on it anyhow)and I'd leave it on over Shabbos and Yom Tov. I'd hoped that phone would never ring at those times...

But my husband hadn't forwarded the house calls to his cell this Shabbos, and now on the landline was my parents' phone number facing us. And why on the landline and not on my cell phone?

I asked, "What do I do?"

I was told to answer it, and I heard a distressed and panicked voice when I picked up the receiver: "WE'RE GOING TO NY GENERAL. HE'S HAD A STROKE AND A SEIZURE!"

Oh. My. G-d.

You cannot imagine what went through my head at that moment. I didn't know what to do. What to say.

I tried to shut my mind down. And I held myself in check as my husband made kiddush, blessed my youngest son (my other two were staying with friends over Shabbos), washed and made ha-motzei. I allowed myself to eat some fish and soup...and then I said: "I HAVE TO GO THERE!"

I knew it was not right to break Shabbos -- by answering the phone and by going to the hospital -- but this time I thought it was the end. A year ago, March, I was called and told my father had been rushed to emergency, and when I got there, he was in a catatonic-looking state. They'd thought he'd suffered a massive stroke, and there were no reactions, just a waxy look to his face, staring at nothingness. At that time he spent 3 1/2 weeks in hospital. Just two months ago, he came home from spending 3 months in hospital.

I silently asked Hashem to forgive me, and my husband gave me a Tehillim. I panicked and said: "I don't even know what I'd read in it." (sad, but true. My father reads Tehillim daily, and has for years, and his daughter doesn't even know where to find her way in it, ie. what to read when.) But I thought I needed something/anything to hang on to.

I rushed off....

When I got to the hospital emergency area, my father was lying on the gurney he'd been brought in on, oxygen mask on, but he was cognizant. He was talking through the mask, telling my brother -- whose Shabbos had also been "disturbed" -- to go home. And my mother said a few times, "I shouldn't have called you."

Yes, you should have, Mom. Nobody deserves to face these trials on their own. This is my father, you are my mother, and we are a family.

To make a long story short-- my father probably did not suffer a stroke, although even the paramedics had first thought he did, as did the attending emergency room doctor. But he did have a very lengthy seizure, as he sat in his chair at the dining room table, prepared to bentsch. The after-effects of a seizure often mimic strokes: tiredness, general weakness, slurred speech, confusion, etc.

My father was in the hospital, admitted in the early hours of Shabbos morning, and poked, prodded, tested, X-rayed, questioned over the course of the next few days. Thank G-d he didn't suffer any more seizures, nor did that "grand mal" one have truly lingering effects. His medications have been reassessed, and he was given his walking papers. I'd love to be able to add: "and a clean bill of health" but we know that's not the case.

He was released today, Yom Yerushalayim, a celebration for Jews the world over, and a celebratory day for us.

My Shabbos could have turned out so very differently. I have a very vivid imagination, and I can also be very realistic. I thank G-d that my father is still among the living.

It pains me to know that perhaps I was selfish last Shabbos. I needed to answer the phone. I needed to go to the hospital. I needed to know exactly what had landed my father in an ambulance and emergency room, and see him for myself. I made the judgment call that it was okay to break Shabbos at a time like this; I deemed it an offshoot of Pikuach Nefesh. G-d forbid anything should happen to my father in the next several hours, my mother would need me.

As I traveled to and from the hospital, I felt guilty. There are people so much more religious and pious than I am, and I figured that they would not take it upon themselves to do what I had done and was doing. I wondered about a friend whose child was incredibly sick for lengthy periods of time and eventually succumbed to an early, untimely death. Had he ever broken Shabbos because he felt it to be a dire, critical situation at the time?

And you shouldn't know, but just a week earlier, someone I know lost her mother Shabbos morning. Her mother passed away in her house. The daughter was there with her brothers...and apparently did not do anything until after Shabbos was out, ie. calling the authorities and chevra kaddisha. Halachically, was this correct? She is very frum, and I know she was in limbo, not yet formally deemed in avelut, and it was Shabbos. But should she have and could she have broken Shabbos to make the necessary phone calls? (any knowledgeable people out there with the answer?)

But as I traveled, I thought of these people who honored Shabbos above all else. Perhaps in my case, it was the continued honor of Kibbud Av v'Em (Honor Thy Father and Mother) that was foremost. That has sustained me throughout my life and has been at the helm of the house I grew up in...along with Shmirat ha-Lashon. (guarding of the tongue against lashon hara/bad talk/gossip.)

Last Friday night, close to midnight, my father and mother urged me to go home. My father's words to me were: "Have a good Shabbos."

And on Motzei Shabbos, I was able to speak to him on the phone, and my father's words to me were: "Have a happy Mother's Day."

Dad, each week that you're "here," I can have a good Shabbos, and each day that you're "here" is a wonderful Mother's Day for me.

We should wish each other a Good Shabbos each week, and may you be around to wish me many more happy Mother's Days!


marallyn ben moshe said...

of course you had to answer the phone and of course you had to go...and of course your mother had to call you...God loves His children and we love our parents and God...and of course you did the right thing...when the yom kippur war broke out i was in the middle of king george/jaffa road at the X husband and i and another couple were walking at 2 in the afternoon when the siren went off...we ran for cover and then ran back to my Mother In Law's house AH...and i went and immeditately turned on the was yom kippur and shabbat...and as i looked at the horror on everyone's faces i told them that if it was nothing then nothing would be on the soon as i clicked the dial we heard...dadadada black snake...dadadad white tower...the army was sending out the code names to the soldiers to get to their units...personally, i am proud of you for knowing that you did what you really had to do...never enough time to kiss a parent one more time...sleep well my dear friend...and refuah shleymah to your dear tatteh

Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear Toronto Pearl,

You did absolutely right! Now I am no halachic authority, but I know right from wrong. Consider this ... what if, God forbid, your dad had died that night, but you stayed home out of a badly misguided and misconstrued understanding of "fidelity" to Shabbos when, I would hope, any responsible rav would certainly have rejected the approach of ... "No, I can't break Shabbos even if it means I'll never see my father again!" What kind of avodas Hashem is that? What kind of chilul Hashem would that have been? God doesn't require that from us. Any Jew who says otherwise, I would contend, is sorely mistaken and surely not anyone I'd care to be around. Now, your friend who kept her mother, after she was niftar in her home and did not call for help until after Shabbos was over, what kind of wrong-headed nonsense is that? Could anyone with sechel credibly argue that that was the proper thing to do? God, I hope not! What if a child of yours or mine had been gravely injured on Shabbos while away at school and you had learned this from a gentile neighbor whose child attended the same university as your child? Would you not put Shabbos aside and race to your child's side? Who among us would contend that staying home in that circumstance would have been the correct course of action? God protect us from any Jew who would argue the point!

Pearl, I applaud you for the courage of this post and hope to meet you at the Ariel Avrech memorial lecture. An early but heartfelt Shabbat Shalom. May your father enjoy a speedy recovery sure in the knowledge his daughter is a secheldik bas Yisroel.

I am,

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

Elie said...

I will start by echoing your words on my post last night: thank you for sharing with us on such a personal and emotional level. We are here for you.

In terms of that awful Shabbos night, I know you made the right decision on both the strict halachik and "touchy-feely" levels. I always like to quote the story, I believe about Rav Yisroel Salanter, who was very quick to permit actions otherwise forbidden on Shabbos in any possible life-threatening situation. When asked to explain, he would say "I'm not being maykal [lenient] on Shabbos, I'm being machmir [stringent] on pikuach nefesh!"

May your father have a complete recovery and many more years with those he loves.

On a side note, one of the things that I feel got worse with "progress" is that with voice mail, unlike the old-fashioned phone answering machines, you can't listen to the message as they leave it. So now, whenever the phone rings on Shabbos and an unfamiliar (or blocked) number comes up on the caller ID, I'm always a little bit afraid it could be an urgent call, God forbid, being placed from a hospital ER phone or borrowed cell. With the answering machine we could actually hear who was calling and why. So much for technological advancement!

Ezzie said...

I'm certainly no halachic authority, and it's probably not a bad idea to ask one for future reference, but I don't think anyone can judge anyone's reaction in such a situation. We were always taught when in doubt on Shabbos about matters relating to pikuach nefesh or even serious illness, to take the safe route. When my grandfather fell - nothing more than a fall - years ago on a Shabbos, my father joined my grandmother in the ambulance even though he probably didn't 'need' to... but really, it was important.

A Simple Jew said...

Elie: R' Salanter's quote is wonderful!

Neil Harris said...

I was directed here from a link sent to me by A Simple Jew.
I too, loved the R Yisrael Salanter quote.

I'll echo Ezzie's comment. We got similar medical issues with parents in my family. A call to a posek or Rav might be in order to find out the best way to deal with these things on Shabbos. Great and honest post.

yingerman said...

So why the guilt?
If you deemed it necessary, then you did what had to be done.
Once upon a time when my wife was due, really really due, she felt it was time to go on shabbos.
I had asked before, and she used the phone, not me, to call a car sevice, money was prepared in an envelope, with an overnight bag at the door (pre-erev). I spoke to the driver, who understood he open and closed the car doorfor my wife, and I walked.
Later a rav told I was shoulda gone in the car, "if the patient needs you to feel better, get the car".
Which is what I did, next time round.

Jewish Smörgåsbord said...

Pearl, In my eyes you did the absolute right thing, not just for yourself but also for your family! Glad to hear your father was released so fast!

orieyenta said...

Thank you for sharing despite your fear that people might have a different impression of you. (Although from what I can see here, everyone is nothing but supportive of you!) May your father continue to recover and share many more Shabbos' with you and your family.

torontopearl said...

Thank you, all, for your reassuring words and your warm wishes for my father's health.

I couldn't help but think of last Erev Shabbos as I sat at the table this Erev Shabbos.

And of course, as I lit my Shabbos candles, my silent prayers were not just "bakashot" -- requests -- for good health and happiness for all my immediate and extended family members, and thanks for giving me my husband and children, but prayers of thanks...for restoring my father to us once again.

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a Teshuva saying that a husband is permitted to go to the hospital with his wife who is giving birth on Shabbos because he can allay her fears by being with her.

If I can make the comparison, it would seem that any time one can help another in a case of possible pikuach nefesh, even if it is not medical help, it is permissible to be mechalel Shabbos to do so.

We had a similar situation in my own family. My grandmother suffered a stroke on Yom Kippur night and my mother went to the hospital.

Best wishes for a Refuah Shelaima and Good Yom Tov.

RR said...

"Perhaps in my case, it was the continued honor of Kibbud Av v'Em (Honor Thy Father and Mother) that was foremost."

I agree completely. And I can only echo what everyone else has already said- you absolutely made the right decision.

I hope your father has continued good health.

Amy Guth said...

I would have done the same, Pearlie. Human beingness, in my mind, is related to nefesh of course, so so to "re-nefesh" on Shabbes as we do, the human connection, especially that of family, is the anchor of life, no?

Anyway, I would have done the same. No guilt, darling friend, your family needed you. That's shabbessey, to me.

Shira Salamone said...

Good heavens, sorry I'm so late in catching up on this news.

I'm certainly no halachic authority, but I think that, between the imperative to honor your parents and to preserve life, you did the right thing.

Re Voice Mail, it's precisely because we can't hear the incoming calls that we're still using a couple of good old-fashioned answering machines. One of these days, I suppose that they'll stop manufacturing such things, but, if you can still get one, I'd recommend that you do so.

May your father have a r'fuah shleimah, bi-m'heirah.