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August 27, 2015 / 12 Elul, 5775
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Every Breath We Take Is A Gift

Dear Rachel,

Over a year ago I wrote a letter to your column. I realize that 50 plus columns later is a long time, so please allow me to jog readers’ memories. I had been feeling down and worn out and had written about my commute by train to and from the city where I had gone to visit my doctor. Many others do so on a daily basis, I know… but my condition made me stand out among the other commuters.

I quote from my previous correspondence: “It was a packed train, and there I was, schlepping my oxygen wheelie (a case that houses my portable oxygen tank) that I can’t leave home without. For without the help of oxygen being continuously pumped into my lungs, my oxygen intake level would fall far short of the required level for a body’s normal function, and my life would be jeopardized.”

I wrote about how hot it was on the train, about how I finally found a seat and of how burdensome it was just to sit comfortably, what with balancing my coat and personal belongings on my lap while trying to make sure no one would trip over my wheelie. I mentioned my acute discomfort, my self-consciousness, the tears that were choking me, and the male passenger who appeared out of nowhere to comfort me by saying, “At least you’re breathing…it’s not snowing…it’s all how you look at things.”

I distinctly felt that G-d was sending me a message that there was good in everything. In my letter I wrote, “It is written that Hashem’s chessed is infinite and we cannot see what is infinite, endless. We cannot accept Hashem’s endless kindness unless it is minimized, limited to the exact amount that a person can accept… Therefore Hashem brings the bad, the suffering, and then the good, so that we understand Hashem’s chessed and we can then be grateful and joyful for both.”

It all began when one day, after years of suffering from asthma and seasonal bouts of pneumonia, I felt that I couldn’t breathe. Following a visit with a lung specialist and various tests later I was informed that my lungs had taken a prolonged beating and that I’d need to rely on oxygen 24/7 for at least several months and possibly forever. My official diagnosis was COPD, which stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

There was talk of a lung transplant, and I even toured a transplant facility to familiar myself with the complicated procedure and its tortuous aftermath, and through it all I would remember that man on the train and knew I couldn’t allow self-pity to rule me because everything is for the good, and, as I said in my letter to you, “G-d willing I will experience the good.”

The last time you heard from me I advised readers not to take breathing for granted and to be extra grateful for being able to breathe upon awakening each morning. And I asked for their prayers. This was during the month of Adar, and you buoyed me with your words of encouragement. You ended your response to me by wishing me a complete refuah shelaima that would enable me to shed my excess baggage and continue to impart my message of strength and hope (your words).

Rachel, we know that most people are prone to speak up when they have a need to complain and unburden, but you don’t hear much from them when their situations improve. I feel I owe it to you and your readers to update you on my current status — to let you know that Hashem listens when we pray and that Baruch Hashem I’ve shed my excess baggage!!!

You were kind to me and so I would like to share my personal experience with readers who might benefit from it. For years I knew I had a hiatal hernia, which is not at all uncommon and doesn’t usually cause much discomfort other than occasional acid reflux. The lung specialist I had first visited took note of the hernia but it was my lungs she was concerned with.

Fast forward, a second lung specialist affiliated with a different medical facility had been highly recommended to us and we decided to seek his opinion on my precarious state of health.

After surveying all the preceding test results and x-rays and conducting some of his own, this astute physician did not deem my lungs to be so terribly damaged as to necessitate full time assistance of an oxygen apparatus to help me breathe. Though he conceded that one lung has sustained scarring, the other appeared to be quite healthy.

My hernia, on the other hand, was somewhat large and was leaning on the weaker lung, possibly hampering normal function. The physician suggested that the acid reflux caused by the hernia could further be damaging the lung. After conferring with a surgeon and anesthesiologist and assessing the risks, Dr. Kenneth Prager felt that repair of the hernia would be a worthwhile undertaking.

Baruch Hashem the procedure went smoothly and before long I detected an appreciable improvement in my oxygen intake. A follow up visit to Dr. Prager bore this out and I soon found myself breathing on my own without the aid of an external oxygen tank. Hodu L’Hashem!

I have no doubt I was meant to suffer my ordeal, yet we must all do our hishtadlus (exert effort) in seeking appropriate care — even to the point of not settling for the diagnosis of one professional. Seeking a second opinion is a perfectly acceptable practice, endorsed by the most acclaimed of physicians. I have absolutely no grievance against the first specialist I visited and am grateful to Hashem for guiding me to the right shaliach.

Where there’s life, there’s hope. But hope is contingent on prayer and perseverance. Thank you for all of your prayers!

Never take breathing for granted!

Dear Never,

Thank you for thinking of us and for your uplifting and heartening message. Did you know that according to the Zohar Shavuos is mesugal for a refuah for the lungs? The five sections of the lung (right lung has three, left has two) correspond to chamisha chumshei Torah (the five Books of Moses). Being mekabel (accepting upon oneself) the Torah on Shavuos directs a positive energy towards healing of the lungs.

May all our ills be cured in the zechus of our observance of G-d’s commandments. Chag Sameach!

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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