Suddenly the quiet of the crowded nook I am in is broken.
“Asleeping?” a doctor asks gesturing to Mr. E. “Asleeping?” he again repeats.
I look over at Mr. E’s thin still frame, closed eyes and open mouth.
“Well, I certainly hope so, otherwise these items are certainly not necessary,” I respond.
The doctor looks at me blankly.
“Yes, asleeping,” I respond.
I am not sure my humor works in English and it most certainly doesn’t translate well.
“You friend?” he asks.
“Ummm,” I hesitate, “Well it is rather complicated. I mean Facebook friends, yes. You know, big F- Facebook. Little f –friend.”
The doctor looks at me blankly.
“You friend?” he repeats.
“Yes, friend,” I respond.
“Ok, I explain you. Tomorrow procedure… the prognosis…the bones…”
I try to cut him off.
“No, I think I am not the right person to explain this to. I think you had better wait for Mr. E to wake up. We have only met once…”
He ignores me and continues, “the spine…the anesthesiologist…the marrow.”
Mr E. stirs and suddenly awakes.
He looks at me and in a raspy, broken voice says, “Wow. Great to see you. How are you?”
“Well,” I offer. “Apparently I am doing much better than you.”
He laughs, “Yes. I suppose that is an understatement.”
“I really am actually in a better position to say that than probably anyone, thanks to chatty doctor here.”
“Ok. Ok,” the doctor says, “You tell friend.”
“No. Not me,” I insist. I stand my ground and make it clear that this is his job.
There is nowhere to go without invading someone else’s space. I know the whole prognosis already. I pretend to fiddle with my phone as the doctor speaks, though there is no WiFi and scarcely a 3G signal.
I stay for a while after that and Mr. E. and I discuss the Federalist Papers as interestingly enough that is what he is reading.
I learn that his sister, in her 50s, will be coming at the end of the week.
“It could be an interesting experience to die here alone in Asia, you know,” he offers casually as I leave.
As I walk home, I think about how different it is coming to a remote place as a Jew. When someone Jewish is ill, our community quickly forms a roster to cover visitation and meals irrespective of whether the person is a shul member or not. Local hospitals know to call the rabbi if a patient is identified as Jewish. And in the end, we have a chevra kadisha that will care for someone even if they had no connection at all to the community.
I know that I will be back to visit again. I am guided by a very Jewish value. I could have written a check to the Hong Kong Cancer Society and hoped that it would have helped someone sometime, but I know that this isn’t enough.
I go home and tell my story to my children. They ask if he goes to our Synagogue, if he is Jewish. It doesn’t matter I explain, but no he is not Jewish. I tell them how terrible it is for him to be alone. How my wish is that they will each find someone Jewish to marry and that their spouse will take care of them if they need it and they can in turn take care of them. I tell them how the Jewish community here and around the world comes together to care for and visit the sick and how they will never actually have to be alone.
And while I sometimes worry that merely memorizing prayers won’t necessarily teach them the values I want to pass on to them and that putting money into a tzeddakah box is a wonderful gesture but it is easy and often not enough, I hope that this story will inspire them to be the kind of people that I want them to be. That they will understand that, though they will hopefully always be surrounded by people who love them and a community that cares for them, there are people on Ward C.
I post a message on Facebook on Mr. E’s wall. I give his new hospital name and bed number as well as a list of the items I brought so that they won’t be duplicated. And note that he no longer has WiFi or a phone. “I am not sure what else he needs, but I think he can really use a friend,” I summarize.