“Shimon says, stand up straight,” Avi joked, not realizing how serious the problem was.
“Shut up, you jerk,” Danny told him.
Finally, a dozen hands lifted Joseph onto a golf cart, and the assistant golf pro drove him off to the guest cottage at the other end of the resort.
“Stay with Grandpa and Grandma,” Joseph told Zev as they whisked him away.
The spasm didn’t unspasm. During the bumpy ride to the cottage, Joseph passed out from the pain. Two hotel bellboys managed to lift him out of the golf cart and carry him into bed where he lay curled up like a fetus until the hotel doctor could be summoned from the neighboring town. After poking Joseph here and there in the back, the country doctor said that it looked like a slipped disc. He wanted to call an ambulance to take him to the nearest hospital for an x-ray, but Joseph refused. With the Passover Seder just hours away, and with his parents to care for, a trip to the hospital was out of the question.
“I’m sure I’ll feel better in no time,” he insisted, trying to make light of the unrelenting pain. “That’s what the tennis pro said.”
“What does a tennis pro know?” Rivka asked.
“Of course he knows. Back problems are a part of his job.”
“You’ve just had a baby?” the doctor asked, when little Rachel started crying in the other room.
“Ten days ago,” Rivka replied.
“Mazel tov,” the doctor wished them in an accent that sounded a lot more upstate New York than Jewish. “You know it’s funny, but a lot of times after a new baby is born, it’s the father’s back that goes out, not the mother’s.”
“My husband is also taking care of his two sick parents,” Rivka told him, hurrying off to pick up the baby.
The doctor left him with some pain killers that he had in his bag and told him to double up on the valium that he was already taking for his neck.
“Back problems can take a day, or a week, or a month,” he said. “Usually, the best thing is rest. There are all kinds of therapies, but nothing beats good, old fashion rest.”
Rivka thanked him and escorted him to the door, carrying the crying baby in her arms.
“Sounds like she wants to eat,” the doctor advised.
After the pain killer started to work, Joseph was able to roll over and semi-stand up from the bed, bending over like a monkey. It helped when he sat in a chair. But all the time he felt like his spine was a fragile column of dominoes that could topple to the floor at any moment.
Through sheer will power alone, he made it to the Passover Seder. True, his son, Zev had to be bring him into the crowded, hotel dining room in a wheelchair, but he made it all the same, neck brace and all. How could he not? Along with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Passover Seder was the highpoint of the year.
The dining hall was packed to overflowing. Families sat around beautifully set tables, laden with bottles of Israeli Concord Wine and stacks of matzah. There was a buzz in the air like before a championship heavyweight prizefight. Kids were running around everywhere. Men wore suits, and women were dressed in their holiday finest. Many of the women wore colorful hats. Rivka was the only one in the room with an Israeli style scarf covering her head. There were some scholarly looking Rabbis, aging zaidas and bubbies, baby carriages and strollers. Joseph’s mother also arrived in a hotel wheelchair, bent over just like her son. Joseph had ordered Zev to give her an extra sedative, to make sure she sat passively throughout the Seder and long evening meal. It broke Joseph’s heart to see his once beautiful mother in such a sorrowful state. He knew he shouldn’t alter the dosages that her psychiatrist prescribed, but not every evening was Passover, and he didn’t have the strength for one of her outbursts in the middle of the celebration.
The guest Rabbi was a well-known educator from Israel. A former American, he had learned at Yeshiva University and served as a popular rabbi in Long Island for almost twenty years before moving his family to Jerusalem. His opening speech was inspiring and funny, but Joseph felt a gnawing pain in his neck and lower back whenever he laughed.