As I saw Chaim playing in the hallway, I was disturbed to notice that his gait was extremely weird - his feet were wide apart and he looked uncomfortable. Before heading for the shoe store I took him to my mother to check what was going on. I did not like what I was seeing. There was considerable swelling in a pretty sensitive area, which was obviously making it difficult for him to walk. I called his pediatrician and asked if I could come over. Luckily, they were able to see him, and the pediatrician's office is about 2 blocks away from my mother's house. On the way to the doctor I checked the shoe store - closed. I wasn't happy, but it turned out to be for the best. The pediatrician checked Chaim and his eyes opened wide in horror. "You have to see a urologist immediately," he said.
Um. What? How could I see a urologist immediately? It was 2 p.m., I was laden down with shopping bags, starved, Dovi was due home in an hour, and there are no urologists in my neighborhood. The front desk staff set to work immediately burning the phone lines. They set me up with a urologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, called the emergency room, and told me to go right away.
I felt cold and hot all over. This could not be happening. WHAT????
I was running on empty. I hadn't eaten all day, aside from a quick bowl of cereal in the morning. I had no food in the house. I had no one to take Dovi off the van when he came home - Nina usually picked him up from my house at 4:30. I had tons of bags with me. I was exhausted. I had tons of work to do. How could I go to the emergency room right away? I cried, I ranted, I called my husband and my mother. But there was nothing doing. I had to take Chaim to the emergency room.
When the panic had subsided, I called a car service. I made a quick stop at my house to drop all my bags, grabbed whatever snacks there were in the closet (in hindsight I should've run to the grocery for five minutes and stocked up on normal food to take with us, but my brain wasn't working), grabbed my tablet computer (which would be my lifesaver for the next few days) and Chaim and I were off to Mt. Sinai. Along the way, I burned the phone lines trying to arrange childcare for Dovi. The ambulette dropped him off at my mother's house, who kept him for an hour. I had a neighbor intercept Nina and tell her to meet my mother along the way. I would apprise her of the situation as the afternoon went on.
Chaim behaved very nicely. I was lucky that his pediatrician had admitting privileges and connections in a hospital, because we were given priority, instead of being made to wait for hours as sometimes happens in emergency rooms. We were given a semi-private room, where Chaim changed into hospital pj's and a team of doctors came to examine him pretty soon. He was hooked up to IV and given some morphine, since they were going to do an ultrasound and it could be potentially painful. I was a little worried, as morphine is a strong drug, but they assured me it was the proper dosage. All the while, Chaim entertained himself by watching Spongebob Squarepants on the big screen in the room and playing with the toys and stickers the Child Life Specialist brought by. So far, not too bad; I stayed in touch with everyone through my tablet (thank G-d for Mt Sinai's wi-fi!) and cell phone, and we snacked on whatever I had brought with me. It was an interesting adventure which I was sure would be over soon; Chaim appeared to have an external skin infection for which he would probably receive a round of IV antibiotics. They were just doing the ultrasound to make sure nothing had spread internally.
By the time we were taken to the ultrasound unit, it was 6 pm... Nina needed to unload Dovi on someone as she had "production practice". My husband would be home at 6:30.... couldn't she watch him for half an hour longer? I was in the hospital, for goodness sakes! But nope... she couldn't. So I burned some more wires trying to find someone to take him. Estelle was at the pediatrician with her brother. (Why it didnt occur to me to call Rebecca or Rachel or one of the other res habs, I don't know.) I finally found a volunteer for him, made the arrangements, and Chaim was wheeled to the ultrasound area. He was really hungry by now, virtually begging me for food - and I was stuck with only pretzels and cookies, which didn't interest him - he needed supper. On the way to the ultrasound area we passed the Bikur Cholim room, and I made a mental note to stop in later.
When we reached the large, open waiting area for the ultrasound I burst into tears. A combination of deja vu and PTSD overcame me and I couldn't collect myself. Three-and-a-half years earlier, I had been in this selfsame waiting room, three times in the span of three days. I was being treated for a huge postpartum infection which had landed me in the hospital when Dovi was 2 weeks old. I clearly remembered laying on the gurney after the CAT scan after a week's hospitalization, desperately missing my kids and dying to go home, only to be told that the infection was still active and they couldn't send me home. I had cried my eyes out to the point where I couldn't breathe and I thought to myself, This must be what a nervous breakdown feels like. In the end, I was discharged a day later with a drainage bag which stayed attached to my leg for another month. But the overwhelming emotions of despair and crushing disappointment came rushing back and I found myself standing next to Chaim and sobbing.
Despite the morphine, Chaim was quite uncomfortable during the ultrasound, so I had to hold his hand and tell him encouraging stories. Thankfully the imaging revealed no internal damage or restricted blood flow, just a little bit of fluid. We returned to the room in the ER. By then it was 7 pm. I had been out of touch with my husband for half an hour - cell phones didnt work at the imaging department. When I reached him, he was beside himself - he didn't know the phone number of the kind family who had taken Dovi from Nina and he wanted to come relieve me. I finally gave him the phone number, and then Chaim started whining that he was hungry. I was weak from hunger myself at that point and cast around frantically for someone to stay with Chaim so I could go to the Bikur Cholim room and get some food. The sweet Child Life specialist offered to stay with Chaim and I raced over to the room. I was relieved to find cold cut sandwiches, danishes, and other delicious, fresh, filling food. Three cheers for bikur cholim!
Sated and happier now, it was time to address the issue at hand: What would happen to Chaim. At 7:45 pm, my phone ran out of money. It took me a few minutes to refill it with my credit card, and just as I finished refilling it, it ran out of power. Just as that happened, a nurse came to tell me that Chaim was being admitted. He needed 24 - 48 hours of antibiotics. BH, it was just cellulitis, but it was bad enough to need an IV drip.
I totally lost it. I broke down an had a full-on meltdown. Chaim was being admitted to the hospital?! This couldn't be happening. How long would this go on? Where would Dovi stay? I couldn't handle it. I couldn't believe that 12 hours earlier I thought I was going out to the dressmaker and to get new shoes for Chaim and.... here I was...
I ran to the courtesy phone to call a neighbor to call my husband. Then I called a neighbor to go upstairs and stay with Dovi, who was finally asleep. Then I called Chesed to see if I could get a car home, but they didn't have anything available. So I called a cab. My husband arrived and I was in tears and ready to collapse. Just then an orderly arrived to take Chaim to his room. I kissed him and went out to the car, where I remained incommunicado with the world since my phone had no power. I was so drained on the way home I couldn't think straight. I arrived home to relieve the kind neighbor and then realized that I didn't have a shred of food in the house. I asked another neighbor to babysit while I ran to the grocery to buy some food. I fell into a fitful sleep, exhausted and drained and knowing that a long, difficult day was awaiting me. It was strange to sleep without my husband and Chaim once again - just a week ago they had set off for Canada, leaving me home with Dovi, and now it was happening again!
In the morning I gave Dovi his medicine again with a heavy heart, watched him cry and fall asleep right when his van pulled up. Then I dashed to the grocery to buy some provisions for Chaim and myself and set out for the hospital.
I had a pretty good day at the hospital. Chaim was really enjoying his time alone with me. Mt Sinai has two amazing pediatric playrooms, one on the pediatric floor and a huge one on the ground floor. Chaim was never bored. He played with Playmobil, made crafts, planted a potted plant, played with musical instruments, and even had a teacher come by and do some crafts with him. A clown stopped by to make a quick magic show, and we watched some more Spongebob. The medical team came by and expressed worry that the swelling didnt seem to be improving, so they were going to add a topical antibiotic ointment (Bactroban). Chaim was becoming an expert on hospital procedure; he was even learning his first few English words. Bikur Cholim brought a delicious lunch. It wasn't all that bad.
But I had so many phone calls and arrangements to make... I had to cancel Dovi's EEG appointment, his dentist appointment, our appointment to see Otsar. Then it became clear that Chaim was staying for Shabbos, so I had to make arrangements for Dovi. Estelle's wonderful family offered to take him as early as that night, after Res Hab, and keep him until after Shabbos! I was extremely touched by their gesture and took them up on their offer.
At first, I offered to stay with Chaim for Shabbos so that my husband would be able to go to shul an have a normal semblance of a Shabbos. But the more I thought into it, the less it made sense. I was already physically and emotionally depleted enough and didn't think I could handle staying with Chaim for over 24 hours. I needed to go home and sleep off the exhaustion and mental stress of the entire week. My husband has a stronger rapport with Chaim; I would be bored all Shabbos with him and would be nervous how Dovi was faring at Estelle's house. It made more sense for my husband to spend the Shabbos with Chaim while I spent Shabbos resting up at home.
Without needing to go home and get Dovi ready for bed, my husband was able to come relieve me earlier; he was at the hospital by 7:30 p.m., and I took the same car back home. Once I was in the car, my adrenaline left me and I broke down and cried. I missed my life, however wacky and abnormal it was; it was way better than passing my husband like ships in the night! I missed Dovi. I missed our routine. I couldn't believe I was actually living this nightmare.
I arrived home at 9 pm to a silent, empty house and sobbed on the couch. "HaShem," I cried, "I want my old life back. No matter how hectic and crazy it is, it's way better than this... emptiness. I feel like a mother bereft of her children. I feel like a ship without an anchor. Please make Chaim better soon so our family can be reunited." As much as I needed my rest and a break, the silence of the house was deafening and I dreaded sleeping all alone.
HaShem came to my rescue; a few minutes later Estelle called that Dovi was crying and having a hard time falling asleep. "Bring him home," I sobbed. "He needs his bed, his mother's hug, his familiar surroundings." Within a few minutes he was home. I hugged him tight and wouldn't let go. Dovi headed straight for his crib without a peep and was out like a light within minutes. I couldn't stop crying.
It was a big shame that I had no one to relieve me a little at Chaim's bedside. My in-laws were in Miami, and my parents were very busy with preparations for my sister's wedding. Thankfully, one of Dovi's Res Hab girls kindly offered to go on Friday morning for a few hours so I could wash laundry, go grocery shopping, and get Dovi's clothing packed and sent over to Estelle's house for Shabbos. I also had to open the door for the handyman to prepare the house for Monday's inspection. The doctor came by to see Chaim and was pleased that things were looking a little better and he predicted that he would probably be discharged on Sunday. I would go to the hospital as soon as Shabbos was over to relieve my husband, my husband would come back at midnight to sleep with Chaim, and my father-in-law who was landing on Sunday morning would take over on Sunday midday.
I set off for the hospital at about 11:00, giving my husband time to get together food and other things for Shabbos. About an hour before Shabbos he came back to the hospital, and once again, I saw him only briefly -for a few minutes. I arrived home really late - about 15 minutes to Shabbos. I still had to ship off Dovi's clothing to Estelle's. I had no time to shower, no time to warm up the food my mother had so graciously sent. I lit candles and fell into a deep sleep.
...from which I awoke an hour later, disoriented and discombobulated. It was only 6:00. The night stretched ahead of me, long and empty. I made kiddush, ate challah, a bowl of cold chicken soup, and cold kugel. I sat there, alone in my quiet home. It felt surreal - in a bad way. I felt bereft and alone. I couldn't beleive this was really happening. I was a mother without any children. As much as I love Dovi, I couldn't have him in the house for Shabbos - I didn't have an ounce of strength and he would only destroy the house and have a frazzled mother crying around him. I didn't want to sleep at my parents', despite their offer; I had no energy for conversation with another human being and needed my solitude. As much as I needed my solitude, it was too much to bear. I sat there in my silent, empty house and fought back the tears.
...And then I remembered another part of Rabbi Feiner's epic speech.
He related that during that first Shabbos when their baby was in the NICU hovering between life and death, his wife began to cry. It was not a very pleasant Shabbos; they didn't have their usual delicious food, company, and atmosphere. They were singing zemiros among the beeping of monitors and Arab doctors walking in and out. Rabbi Feiner turned to his Rebbetzin Aviva and said, "Do you think HaShem appreciates our usual beautiful shabbosim, with the bochurim, the divrei torah, the zemiros, the chulent and kugel? Definitely. But guess what? He appreciates this kind of Shabbos much more. A Shabbos that we can keep amid the beeping monitor and our very sick baby. We are still keeping Shabbos, eating Shabbos food, singing zemiros, and treating Shabbos like the Queen she is. You're not supposed to cry on Shabbos. This Shabbos is way more beloved by HaShem."
I repeated those words to myself. Yes, I was sacrificing my usual Shabbos comforts to HaShem - because that is what He wanted from me at that moment. He wanted me to have a lonely Shabbos without my husband and children, without becoming sad and despondent. So I put a smile on my face, read a little, went to sleep early, and had a refreshing night's rest. On Shabbos morning I stopped by Estelle's house to visit dear Dovi, who looked very happy there. Then I headed for my parents' house where I enjoyed the seudah, read a little, and went back home to rest and read some more.
The minute Shabbos was over I called the hospital and discovered, to my delight, that Chaim was being discharged that very night! The swelling was all gone; he would come home on Clindamycin (a whole chapter unto itself; the medicine tastes and smells like putrid diarrhea and we could not force it down Chaim's throat!!!) and had to continue using Bactroban, but the cellulitis was gone, with no lasting effects. My husband and Chaim had had a wonderful Shabbos together; they had enjoyed themselves immensely in the huge playroom, participated in a quiz show (Chaim knew one answer, which was Uncle Moishy!) and actually had a wonderful rest away from Dovi, where Chaim got his own personal attention the entire Shabbos. Soon Dovi came home, and then Chaim came home, and the nightmare was finally over.
Chaim stayed home from cheder on Sunday, but by Monday he was able to go back to cheder as normal. My apartment inspection passed. The kids were off on their buses and I looked around the house. I wanted to hug every corner of my house. My life was still crazy. It was still insane. It was still high-energy, totally encompassing, and always hectic. But it was my normal life. It was way better than the four indescribable, emotionally wrenching days I had spent running back and forth at the hospital. It was... normalcy.
NOTE: I'm sure many of you have spent time with your children at the hospital. Kids have appendectomies. Stitches. Infections. Flu. Tonsillectomies. Whatever. For me, this was the first time - and it came on top of a very difficult 1 1/2 weeks - so maybe you may find the whole article overly dramatic. However - this is how I was living it, and therefore I wrote it with the raw emotion I felt at the time. You can take the article however you want.
I had definitely hit rock bottom with how much I was able to endure at the time. Slowly, cautiously, my wheel started to turn back up. It would take another few weeks, but lots of little things would suddenly start straightening themselves out, and rays of light would enter my life, one at a time. Don't stop reading yet - there are some positive entries ahead.
I'm glad I was pushed into resuming the blog. This was cathartic for me to write. Now that we've passed over the hump, I'm looking forward to writing more upbeat posts.