A trauma in three acts:
The Friday could not have started any nicer; my 4-year-old daughter, Raphaela, celebrated her birthday in nursery school–always a touching and emotional event in the Israeli school system–and as a bonus, my parents had arrived the day before from Boston and were able to join in the festivities.
That afternoon, my parents offered to babysit Raphaela, a luxury for me both as a single mother by choice, and as a woman who moved to Israel 16 years ago, with no immediate family living anywhere on the continent. What a sense of freedom knowing that my child is in capable and loving hands, and that I have several hours with no responsibilities other than to myself.
Then, that evening, while waiting at my parents’ vacation apartment for my father to return from synagogue, Raphaela tripped on a quilt and smashed her chin directly into the hard cold tiled floor that typifies most Israeli buildings.
The blood dripping on her floor, her beautiful Shabbat dress, and on my clothing sent me me into a panic. And the blood kept flowing and flowing. (Paging the Lady Macbeth Dry Cleaning Service…)
At first, my mother tried to calm me, saying that from what she could see it “wasn’t that bad,” that this injury happens to kids “all the time.” Apparently one of my brothers did this to himself three times before my parents just stopped taking him to the hospital for stiches. Meanwhile, that inner voice in my head was screaming, “I am a doctor and I can see into her skull! My child’s head is bleeding and peeling like that gruesome scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and you are telling me to take it easy?!”
Regardless of my mother’s years of experience in child-rearing, I immediately decided that I must take her to the Emergency Room on a Friday night in Jerusalem when I did not have any identification or money or even a cell phone.
Holding Raphaela, I finally hailed a cab, and as part of the journey to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, we had to drive through a more religious neighborhood that closes off its streets on Shabbat. I instructed the hesitant cabby to ignore the barricades and drive around them, that my daughter trumped Shabbat in this case. I actually heard one woman curse at our vehicle, saying, “Damn you, who are you to violate Shabbat?” If I had not had a crying injured child in my arms, I might have asked the driver to stop so that I might educate this neighborhood on the true spirit of Judaism.
When we arrived at the hospital check-in station, the woman asked me the typical Israeli patrilineal/chauvinist data base question, i.e. what is the name of the child’s father. When I responded that I was a single mother, she wrote “No parent” on Raphaela’s medical bracelet. Then the secretary looked at me with slight contempt and said, “And who are to this bleeding girl?”
As if my anguish at seeing my child suffer didn’t count at all.
Contrary to our initial encounter at check-in, the nurses and doctors in the Pediatric Emergency Ward radiated both kindness and promptness, taking us into the examination room almost immediately. After processing and a brief consult with the Pediatric Plastic Surgeon, we sat in the waiting room and met another boy, 3 years old and sporting the exact same injury as Raphaela. The father said that he too had been horsing around and fell on the floor, and “good on it.” When I seemed puzzled at the father’s belief that this represented a positive event in every child’s life, he explained: “Now he will think twice before he gets wild again.” Really? Surely there must be a better way to achieve this object lesson…
I advised the surgeon that Raphaela had already tried to run away from the hospital in anticipation of the pain and discomfort, and that we should consider at the very least some drug to relax her. Seeing his skepticism, I quickly added that I have some medical background, in addition to my qualifications as her other, and apologized in advance for overstepping his authority and expertise.
The anesthesia took over 15 minutes before the effect kicked in, such is the iron will and stubbornness of my daughter. As she drifted off to sleep, I asked Raphaela if she wanted me to sing to her, and received an emphatic “No!” She asked for the story of her conception, pregnancy, and birth, which I gladly told in all its glorious and personal detail, in front of the entire surgical and nursing staff. “And then, when the doctor told Mommy that she would not get her epidural, Mommy really wanted Baby Raphaela to get out…”
The surgery progressed well, until quite suddenly and quickly, Raphaela’s breathing became labored and a bright red rash crept along every part of her body. Nearing anaphylactic shock, the adverse reaction to the anesthesia continued, with Raphaela fighting to get off the operating table, throwing herself onto the floor and going into spasm. It became evident that a so-called simple procedure had officially become an overnight stay with extreme supervision, and I officially became a nudnik mother, the woman who asked too many questions, bothered the nurses, and consequently had my fears and concerns largely ignored by the medical staff.
Act III, In which I pray
The prayer started with the thought of what I could have possibly done wrong to bring such a punishment upon me and my daughter, my greatest treasure and source of joy, and the reason I wake up every morning.
It then proceeded to the apology phase of prayer: I was feeling guilty because some part of me blamed my parents for this injury; arrogantly thinking that I had gone along these past four years as a single parent and never had to take her to the emergency room on a Shabbat until they arrived for a visit. I was feeling horrible because I was worried if this deep gash would repair properly or if it would leave a scar and ‘ruin’ my daughter’s face; rationalizing with such idiotic comforts like, “Well if Padma Lakshe can be a supermodel with her scar, then so can my Raphaela!” I began to apologize for taking the small and amazing aspects of my life for granted, and started making all sorts of deals with God just so my daughter could be able to breathe again.
Lastly, I arrived at the hysterical mother stage, wailing without shame and playing out the worst case scenarios in my head.
After collapsing on the floor (Raphaela had fallen asleep there) she was moved to a proper hospital bed. She woke up four hours later, still stoned from the barrage of medications she had received, but with her breathing clearer and the rash somewhat improved, enough to be able to discharge us and send us home. (With all sorts of gifts for the princess of course, including toys and candy treats and pair of Shaare Zedek pajamas.)
When I suggested that we go to our house, because all I wanted to do was take a shower and crawl into my own bed and to be able to supervise her in familiar surroundings, Raphaela started crying, insisting that we must return to Bubbe and Zaide’s house, to let them know that her boo-boo was better.
And besides, she added, “We deserve a do-over on Shabbat.”
Raphaela and I sat outside Shaare Zedek Hospital at 3 a.m., waiting for the cab to arrive to take us to my parents’ place. The air was crisp, the sky full of threatening rain clouds, and the streets of Jerusalem were empty, deserted.
Raphaela asked me when she could meet my Bubbe and Zaide, and I told her that they were with Hashem in the Garden of Eden.
And as we sat there quietly enjoying each other’s company, I silently thanked God and all my guardian angels for giving me back my child, and I asked my Bubbe, the amazing woman for whom Raphaela was named, to keep her namesake safe and healthy.