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Spending Shabbat in the ER

Spending Shabbat in the ER

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It was the most uncomfortable Shabbat I have ever experienced. What was meant to be a quick visit to the emergency room turned into a hospital admission over Shabbat, with no advance warning. My father, whoAll I had with me were the clothes on my back had driven my baby and me to the children’s ER, barely had time to get back home before Shabbat began at sunset. I, on the other hand, sat in the ER waiting for someone to transfer us to the ward on the seventh floor, where we would spend the next two days. It was the first time in my married life that I was unable to light Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon (due to hospital regulations). I comforted myself with the thought that my husband would light the candles at home in my place for the rest of the family.

Because I couldn’t use my phone on Shabbat, I worried how I would get through the following 25 hours with no contact from the outside world. All I had with me were the clothes on my back and a small diaper bag that contained several diapers, wipes and one jar of baby food. I thought about the fresh, warm Shabbat food waiting at home for our special family meal, and the fact that I had nothing at all with me to eat. How would I recite kiddush on the wine and the blessing on the challah?

How long I had looked forward to this weekend—the one and only Shabbat I had with my parents, who were visiting from overseas. How could it be that I would miss that? I pictured the faces of my children as they waited patiently for my return and how disappointed they would be when they found out that Mommy wasn’t going to be coming home for Shabbat, especially my oldest, whose birthday it was that very day. The special birthday muffins bought for the occasion would have to be eaten without me. How unfair life is sometimes.

But more importantly, I worried about my baby’s condition. He was just several days after surgery and was experiencing a complication the surgeon hadn’t prepared us for. Unfortunately, no one in the emergency room had too much time to explain any details to me. How long I’d be there, the diagnosis and the treatment plan were unknowns, making the situation all the more tense and nerve-wracking.

All these depressing thoughts ran through my mind as I sat in a room off the emergency area, feeling as though I was completely forgotten. I watched as the nurses hooked up a 1-year-old to IV antibiotics for her diagnosis of pneumonia. A 2-year-old was being bandaged after a severe burn on his leg. Yet a third couple stood helplessly watching their feverish 3-week-old baby. I could hear several monitors beeping behind drawn curtains. The waiting room held at least six more youngsters waiting for their turn to be seen. How strange, this Friday afternoon in the ER. You’d never know that the Jewish world is lighting candles at this very I was placed in a room with another Shabbat-observing family moment and greeting the Sabbath queen.

Well, I, too, would greet the Sabbath queen, even under these difficult circumstances. I started to quietly sing some traditional Shabbat melodies to myself, but was quickly interrupted by a nurse. “You need to move from here. We need this room. Just wait in the hallway until someone can transfer you.” So much for trying to create a Shabbat-like atmosphere. I stood in the hallway, shivering, trying to keep my whimpering baby warm with his stroller cover. I blinked away a few stray tears. I will not cry. I will not cry. It is Shabbat already, a time of celebration, a time to be happy. I will not cry.

I was so thankful when I was finally transferred an hour or so later. To my delight, I was placed in a room with another Shabbat-observing Jewish family. Their youngest, a 3-year-old boy, had mastoiditis—a serious infection in the middle ear, which was being treated with IV antibiotics over the course of a week. Fortunately, they had plenty of advance notice that they would be in the hospital for Shabbat, and prepare they did! They found an empty apartment near the hospital for the entire family (of eight children) to stay in so that they’d all be together. All the regular Shabbat dishes were prepared at home and brought with them, including cholent. It was amazing to see the unity of this family going to such lengths to stay together for Shabbat, or perhaps it was because they felt so strongly about the mitzvah of visiting the sick, trying to keep their youngest brother’s spirits up?

Either way, it was clear that G‑d had orchestrated my placement in that hospital room because for each meal, they brought me a plate of warm food. “How awful to fall into Shabbat like this,” they told me. “The least we can do is provide some Shabbat food for you!” I was so thankful to them for “adopting” me—and to G‑d for planning for my needs in advance before I even knew I’d need them.

It was an intense Shabbat in the ward. I didn’t even know most of the other Jewish patients’ names, but we all felt a sense of connection, a mutual understanding of going through the same thing, an unspoken empathy crossing between us as we passed each other in the halls. All other cares and pressures from everyday life forgotten, the focus was simply on trying to be as positive as possible under the stressful circumstances since, after all, it was Shabbat.

By midday on Sunday, my baby had a miraculous turnaround, and we were given the green light to pack up (not that I had much with me!) and head out. I worried that perhaps my new hospital mates would be envious of ourMy baby had a miraculous turnaround quick entrance and exit since most of them had been there much longer and with an unclear discharge date. Thankfully, they rejoiced along with me, wishing my baby health and me much nachas (Jewish pride) from him.

I squinted as I stepped out of the hospital into the afternoon sun, forgetting how bright natural daylight can be after spending the last few days inside the hospital. I whispered a prayer above, asking G‑d to send each of those precious children we had spent Shabbat with a quick and complete recovery. How odd it was knowing I’d likely never see these families again, yet feeling so connected to them at that moment. My heart was filled with gratitude to the family who had given me hope in the form of physical sustenance and concern, and to G‑d for returning me to the simple routine of daily life.

By Sari Bloom
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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JK via jewishmemphis.com June 4, 2017

Thank G-d that people were available to assist you and your young one. I am sure they made sacrifices to be there too. Reply

jim dallas June 4, 2017

great work of art....reminds me of.....well, never you mind! you just stay tight with HaShem and take care of family and especially the unfortunate ill ones! may He be with us all! Reply

S United Kingdom May 31, 2017

What a wonderful experience, meeting other observant Jews in hospital. King David was correct when he wrote in psalms that one sows with tears and reaps with joy. I do hope and pray your prayers were answered for the other poorly children. Reply

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