Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.


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Friday, August 12, 2005

Headaches and Heartaches

[Aaron's Story - Part One]

Aaron's senior year of high school was a hectic one. In addition to his usual full class schedule, which now included four AP courses, he - and we - were kept busy with his college and Israel yeshiva applications. We were able to pare the former down to three choices and the latter to two, but that still meant five applications, each with a lengthy form, one or more essays, letters of recommendation, and of course, interviews. Most memorable to me were two trips with Aaron back to my old alma mater, Yeshiva University, for their open house and for Aaron's scholarship interview.

The Israel Yeshiva selection was actually made rather quickly, so the key decision was coming down to where Aaron would go when he came back from Israel. YU was his - and my - first choice, but without a very significant scholarship, we couldn't see how to swing it. We spent a lot of effort digging up every possible financial aid angle, and a lot of mental energy fretting and planning and arguing and strategizing and agonizing over this one decision, which didn't even need to be finalized for another year.

So much wasted time, so many meaningless worries. Mentch tracht, Gott lacht.

At some point in the school year, Aaron started to casually mention that he was having headaches. Trying to recall exactly when he first voiced these complaints haunts my very core. Was it early spring? Late winter? Even earlier, Heaven help me?

Whenever the headaches started, neither Debbie, I, nor Aaron himself paid them much attention. Kids get headaches, right? No biggie. Aaron's schedule and lifestyle certainly seemed full of innocuous excuses for headaches. Twelve hours a day at school and on the bus, several additional hours spent studying, reading, and learning every evening (Aaron had just taken on Daf Yomi on top of his regular studies), no more than five to six hours of sleep a night. Who wouldn't get headaches? And the headaches - or at least Aaron's mention of them - seemed to come and go.

So the spring wore on and Pesach approached. Aaron's headaches became a little more frequent, a little more intense, and we started to think they needed looking into. He was feeling it right at the base of his skull, or in his neck. We also noticed that he had started to hold his head somewhat to the side. Aha! - something in his neck or back, we reckoned. We scheduled a spinal x-ray during chol ha-moed. The results came in a few days later. Slight scoliosis, Aaron's pediatrician, Dr. K, concluded. Possibly also a pinched nerve in his neck.

It was all perfectly logical, utterly plausible. After all, this was Aaron we were talking about. The reliable one, the guy we could always count on. The kid who didn't miss a day of high school due to illness even once in the past four years. What could be wrong? And we were all still busy with the thousand obligations of our daily grind, and the frenzied Pesach preparations in addition. Aaron did his usual perfect job covering the countertops, kvetching all the time about the brand of liner we had bought (less sticky than usual).

Pesach had arrived. And now Aaron was starting to feel nauseated along with his headaches. The first time this happened was the night of the first Seder. Of course - it has to be all that wine, matza, and lettuce so late at night! And in fact, he was fine for the second Seder. But the episodes continued sporadically through the holiday, and persisted afterwards when we returned to regular, non-Pesach cuisine. We mentioned the vomiting to Dr. K. All symptoms still consistent with a pinched nerve, he felt - maybe a stomach bug on top of it? He advised us to see a chiropractor. Worth a try, we thought.

The week of May 9th - one week after the holiday ended - Aaron visited that chiropractor every night. The first night, they put him in a neck brace. A damn neck brace, God forgive me.

And all the while, Aaron went about his usual business. As a senior, he was done with secular studies for the year since before Pesach, but still continued to take the bus to RTMA every morning at 6:30 for limudei kodesh [Jewish studies]. In between Gemara, and in between vomiting, he studied. He had two AP tests to take that week, Monday and Wednesday. Dentist's appointment Tuesday night - had to get that in before his senior trip to Florida that coming Sunday! Business as usual. But every night, we had the same conversation:
"Aaron, is the brace helping you at all?" "Not really - my neck still hurts."
Thursday night, May 12th. It had become obvious that the chiropractic approach was accomplishing nothing. We left a message with Dr. K's service. He called us back Friday morning and agreed to order an MRI of Aaron's head - "just in case". There was still no real reason to think anything worse than a pinched nerve, and maybe migraines, was amiss. But somewhere in Debbie's subconscious, an alarm bell started to ring that morning.

Aaron had already left for school for the day, so Debbie drove up to Elizabeth to pick him up. They had a quiet argument about Aaron's leaving early - his class was going into Brooklyn to see Rav Dovid Feinstein that day, and Aaron didn't want to miss it. But Debbie wasn't taking no for an answer.

Friday afternoon. I came home from work early to start the Shabbos cooking. Debbie called once from the MRI place to tell me that they were still waiting, but it should be their turn soon. As I recall, I still had no serious premonitions - but I think right then was when I first started to feel a nervous twinge.

Time ticking away. Tension mounting as I waited for that phone call, the one that would confirm everything was OK. Finally, the phone rang and the caller ID told me it was Debbie's cell. I grabbed it from the cradle, telling the other kids to keep the noise down so I could hear Mom's call.

Her voice gave it away even before her words did.
"Elie... it's bad. He has a brain tumor. They don't know how serious it is yet. We need to go to the hospital tonight for some tests."
My world stopped. Somehow, a chair found its way under me as my legs collapsed. Suddenly, stunningly, I was in a different universe, one that contained absolutely nothing except for those words I had just heard. Another moment later, and I would be pulled into yet another new reality, one in which there were people, things, actions to take. But for just an instant, nothing else existed but those few sentences that shattered my old life forever.

to be continued

Link to Aaron's Story: Part Two

7 Comments:

At 8/12/05, 3:26 PM, Blogger benros52589 said...

may all be smooth dad i just think that from the very fact he received headaches which god gave him that was the end

 
At 8/12/05, 4:58 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

That was very powerful. I wish that there was something that I could do to help.

 
At 8/12/05, 5:09 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Ben, we all know that now, but I'm trying to write about how it felt in the beginning. It's a hard process but I need to get through it in my own time.

Jack, thanks for the kind words. There is nothing anyone can do, except being there to listen.

 
At 8/12/05, 7:18 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Ok, I am happy to listen.

 
At 8/15/05, 7:34 PM, Blogger Glen Holman said...

My reactions are a combination of the following (not in any particular order): chills down my spine. breathless and shaky.
Congratulations on taking this courageous step.

My heart goes out to you.

glen

 
At 8/16/05, 7:25 PM, Blogger JC said...

Again, I am so sorry for your loss. I hope that this act of writing helps you in some way. This horrible thing that happened-how could you expect. Those things don't happen to you and those you love-they happen to other people. I will keep reading.

 
At 8/17/05, 1:09 PM, Blogger callieischatty said...

You are a wonderful father.

My prayers are with you and your brave family.

 

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