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 veryI 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
By midday on Sunday, my baby had a miraculous turn around,
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 turn around
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