The Mourning of Hope; the Dawn of Numbness; the Creeping light of Anger; Seeking Accommodation of light and darkness, as the Sunrise of a new reflection of Self begin to take shape, and finally, Acceptance of Fear, Pain, and yes, the co-mingling of Joie de Vivre, joy of life.
While the above might sound like a somewhat poetic roller-coaster, a weird fun-house mirror room, these feelings of being a Pin-ball flung from one spot with harsh sounds and lights to another, is the alternate existence of one who painfully discovers that his or her “old life” is over and a new one has begun. This shocking birth of a new reality, an alternate world, is in its foundation the same as a normal birth, a very lonely and personal “rude” awakening.
Without warning, the first awareness of an onset of a serious accident or illness brings with it a dawn of a new world, complete, as it were, with its own natural laws that are not always clear to the uninitiated. This leaves both the “newbie” and his or her family, feeling that they have landed in a strange new world without a passport or travel guide.
So, how does one navigate this? There is a new language to learn, a new culture to study, new foods to eat, new inhabitants to share space with and new professionals to deal with. And there is loss, the greatest of which is that of Self and Privacy – both of which relate to independence. For some, this is an insurmountable loss, and can also be felt as defeat; others see it as a mountain to be climbed – with challenges, for sure, but also with choice and effort.
So it has been for Chaim K., who as many of you may remember was just a lad of 14 when he was run over on a dark Jerusalem street while returning home from baking matzah on Taanit Esther. Twelve years have passed since that day and Chaim has shared much with you over the years. Here is his latest contribution.
“One morning I woke up and it wasn’t like every other morning. I was lying in a bed that wasn’t mine, my whole body wasn’t mine, every orifice had tubes coming in and out of it. I couldn’t speak. I tried to move, I couldn’t. I heard beeping sounds. It took me a few moments – maybe more, time has a weird definition in these parts – to acknowledge to myself that I was in a hospital.
“Then I heard someone say: ‘He’s awake,’ and begin to shine a light in my eyes to see if I was conscious and aware.
“Since that morning my life hasn‘t been the same. I lost the ability to move, to breathe on my own, and also my privacy. You see, since that morning there hasn’t been a moment that I have been totally alone.
“It was very hard for me to understand my extreme dependence on others. When I had an itch I had to ask someone to scratch it, no matter where it was.
“A person generally touches his face hundreds of times over the course of the day. But in my situation I learned to ask for help only when I really, and I mean really need it.
“Until today, twelve and a half years after the accident, I haven’t become used to it, that is used to asking others for help. One never gets used to the fact that the original you has died.
“At the beginning there were hours on end during which I didn’t drink. It wasn’t in me to ask for a drink. If something itched I didn’t ask for help until I was going out of my mind from the itching. This was almost always in regards to my face, as I have no feeling from the neck down, with some exceptions, like on my right side, but even there, sensory feelings are very sporadic.
“After I was transferred to rehab, which would be my home for a year, I was taught how to deal with my new situation on a day-to-day basis.
“From the beginning my mother only wanted family or Jewish aides to be taking care of me. For the first few years, my family members were my primary caretakers. However, as my siblings grew up and got married, there were fewer and fewer people who could stay with me, care for me and sleep with me, as I required such help 24/7.
“It took quite a bit of trial and error, until my mother became convinced that the only way to solve the care giving problem was to import foreign workers. In Israel, these people are generally not Jewish, and come from Third World countries. The Israeli government, and more importantly the Health and Foreign and National Health Ministries not only permit this nationwide solution to our aging and ill population, but in many cases underwrite the entire expense.
“For me, they were able to supply two male aides.
“As we were surprised to learn, and by we, I mean my Charedi family – and especially my mother – the cultural differences only worked for me.
“A few years ago, Hashem sent me a wonderful helper who came from India. He is a nice, respectful and generous person. Not much time passed before we became quick friends. D. has shown me that “giving” is not just something one does; he has elevated it to an art form.
“As he wasn’t the first aide we had, I had others to compare him with. I am not exaggerating when I say that he stands head and shoulders above all others. He works for me with another man, but he is my “Main-Man,”with me 24/7. He sleeps by my side at night and helps me put on Tefillin every morning. My family teasingly calls us the “The Odd Couple.” In fact, our conversations and bickering make us sound more like an old married couple rather than an aide and patient.
“That my family, especially my mother, is able to do this is a sign that they have taken a baby step in learning not to judge others by his or her external appearance, cultural background and religion. They are learning to see a person by his or her inner self, the heart and soul, independent of extraneous information that only serves to color the true data.
“In a few months D. goes home on vacation and to check out the ‘shidduch’ prospects his parents have arranged for him. Two years ago when he went home for two months, I became so depressed that I couldn’t function. No one could find a pill or therapy to ease my sadness.
“When he returned, the depression vanished overnight. This time, however, my sorrow is mixed with my happiness for him. He is going to find a wife, become engaged. He will return for the year-long engagement period and then go home to begin his life in India as a married man. As hard as that will be for me, I cannot help but feel joy for him. He is so deserving of everything good. I can’t begrudge him a thing, after so many years of his devotion and friendship, and the calm he has imbued in me. I owe him more than he owes me. I only hope and pray that the next aide is at least eighty percent as good and kind as D. was, and is, to me.
“One of the reasons I am sharing all this is because one of the life lessons my accident has taught me is the skill of opening my eyes and heart to the souls of others so different from those we were raised with.
“I have learned to be stronger in my religious beliefs, not by trying to change another to be the way I am, but by respecting the way another person is and what he is prepared to share with me, and lastly, but most importantly, the very special soul Hashem has given him.
To wish him derech hatzlacha on his quest to find the right woman to share his life with, I, figuratively, raise a proverbial glass of wine (I can’t raise a literal one) and wish him a l’chaim. Ironically, he can only figuratively drink it, because he, for his own religious reasons, doesn’t drink alcohol. It makes me smile, and we actually laugh out loud. Two figurative wine glasses, signs of deeply felt friendship, just clicked in some alternative existence.
About the Author: Judith Guedalia is Director, Neuropsychology Unit; Chief Psychologist; Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Licensed Supervisor and Specialist in Medical, Rehabilitation, and Developmental Psychology; EMDR Certified Practitioner: Supervisor; Certified ADOS Diagnostician; Co-Chair Nefesh Israel. Dr. Guedalia can be reached through her website: www.drjudithguedalia.com ALSO her new book: A Neuropsychologist’s Journal: Interventions and Judi-isms is available through Urim Press or on Amazon.
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