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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Pikuach Nefesh: Was it or wasn’t it?
(See Still Seeing Red… Chronicles April 12)

Dear Rachel,

The letter from Still seeing red who claimed her faith was thrown into a tailspin because a rebbetzin refused to allow her to use the Internet on Shabbos was baffling, as you pointed out. If this woman had the amount of blood in her urine that she described, she had a situation serious enough to warrant a call to a doctor, Hatzolah, or 911. Also, she had a Christian landlord whose aid she could have enlisted if she was reluctant to make the call herself. Her insistence on doing research on the Internet on Shabbos to determine what was wrong made no sense. It is also surprising that the nurse who helped her thought that allowing her to research her condition on the Internet was logical, instead of urging her to contact a doctor. A trained nurse should have recognized that a “liter of blood” might not be a simple case of hematuria due to a mild infection. (When the infection is mild, the blood is often not visible to the naked eye.)

A more severe urinary tract infection left untreated can cause kidney damage. I had a similar situation myself, waking up one morning and passing dark brown urine that looked like a mixture of blood and pus. I was afraid that I might have a very serious disease, chas v’sholom, or a severe infection that could be life threatening. The doctor I saw diagnosed a kidney infection severe enough to cause kidney damage. In fact, later tests showed that I had an enlarged kidney, but if this was cause or effect of my infection, the doctor could not say. Fortunately, antibiotics cured my infection and no further treatment was needed. Eventually the enlargement subsided and never caused me any further problems, Baruch Hashem. Nonetheless, I did not know that at the time. My situation did not occur on Shabbos, but if it had I would have done exactly what I did. I would have placed an immediate call to my doctor or to Hatzolah.

According to my Rav, any condition that threatens life or limb (or organ) is justification for calling a doctor or ambulance on Shabbos. It is not up to us who do not have medical degrees to decide if we are “sick enough.” It is also surprising that the rebbetzin in the letter did not consult with her husband the rav who could have explained to the woman that because her situation was dangerous she should call Hatzolah, a doctor, or 911, and not waste time doing research on the Internet or anywhere else. If she managed to convince him that she truly was not in danger, he might have recommended that she wait until after Shabbos to do her research.

The letter writer’s claim that calling an ambulance would cause her family agony and not accomplish anything also does not make sense. Having been in that situation, I can say that if anything it can be a relief to know that one’s loved one is going to receive the care he or she needs. And it would accomplish something. Upon taking one look at a urine sample from this woman, any doctor would know that an acute problem was occurring and would not expect the woman to wait months for treatment, and any emergency room doctor can prescribe antibiotics without waiting for lab results, if the situation warrants it.

I agree that the whole story does not ring true and sounds either made up, or as if it was written by someone looking for an excuse to reject her faith, or to show Orthodox Judaism in an unfavorable light. Your answer, though, did not address all the issues raised by the letter. Among other things, you probably should have urged this troubled individual to discuss her questions with a competent rabbinic authority.

Been there myself

Dear Been,

You obviously relate strongly to the situation because of your own experience, but keep in mind that no two scenarios are alike. While the woman might have actually believed she passed a “liter of blood,” it takes but a scant few drops of blood to color the water and cause undue alarm.

Though there is no reference to any of this in the letter, you somehow picked up the notion that Mrs. A (whom she turned to for help) is a rebbetzin, and you go on to suggest that this rebbetzin could have consulted her husband the rav. As an aside, I’m just wondering how conducting a weekly shiur in one’s home renders one a rebbetzin.

While neither you nor I personally witnessed the goings on, rest assured that had it been a case of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), Hatzolah would have been summoned by the woman herself, the woman she turned to for help or even the nurse who was her enabler in desecrating the Shabbos — regardless of her claim about her anxiety-ridden next of kin. The fact that she had the wherewithal to browse the web for information at length is proof that there was no real emergency.

Glad your own condition cleared up. May we all enjoy optimum health and be spared the emergencies that warrant being mechalel Shabbos.

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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