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, September 23, 2005

The Unthinkable

[Aaron's Story - Part Three]

Saturday night - early Sunday morning - May 15th 2005, 1:00 am. I lay alone in my bed, willing myself to fall into some kind of slumber, more because I felt I'd need my strength for the next day, than from any real desire to sleep. In fact, I was physically and mentally exhausted, but about as far from sleepy as I'd ever been in my life.

My restless mind kept rehashing the events of the past 30 hours. So many thoughts and worries were racing through my head: What would we discover over the next few days? Would Aaron need surgery? How soon would we know? Would he be out of the hospital in time for his graduation, three weeks from now? How would his planned year of learning in Israel - he already had tickets for an August 31st flight - be impacted by all this?

And somewhere deeper, but - even yet - not foremost, were darker forebodings: What does Aaron really have? Why was his pain so much worse tonight? What will the long term impacts of this condition be?

At some point, I must have drifted into a doze, though the same thought processes continued, with no perceived discontinuity, into my sleeping state. In any case, I suddenly found myself startled awake. The clock on my dresser read 2:31 am.

The telephone was ringing.

A brief hope that it was just a wrong number, that annoying auto-dialer that only seems to call us in the middle of the night, flickered through my dazed consciousness. But my heart knew the truth. There was only one person it could be, and only one reason she could be calling.

As I reached for the phone, an echo of a premonition intruded, taking the form of - how strangely our minds work, even at the most traumatic of times - a much-ingrained movie scene: "Jim... you'd better get down here. Better... hurry."

I picked up the phone. Debbie's voice on the other end, sounding shaky, but calm. Aaron had had a very bad couple of hours, she told me. His pain had gotten worse and he began to have trouble breathing. The emergency team was called in, and they needed to put him on a ventilator. They were still working on him, she said, but as soon as he was stable, he was being moved to the intensive care floor.

Debbie told me she would call me again if anything changed. Call me, right. I hung up, threw some clothes on, and was in the car as fast as I could move.

(better... hurry)

I had already made the mistake of going home to begin with, of leaving Debbie alone for what proved to be the most traumatic and horrifying hour of her life. It's something I'll have to live with forever... and try to forgive myself for, someday.

After a mad, surreal drive through the deserted streets, I arrived at the hospital, frantic, heart racing. As I entered the building, I had a brief wave of deja vu. Just that morning - could it really have been less than a day ago? - I had arrived in a similar apprehensive state, only to find that reality was (seemed) less dire than I had feared. Was it too much to hope for the same result tonight?

It took several interminable moments to find Aaron's new room. When it finally came in sight, I knew instantly that things were even more wrong than Debbie had conveyed. She was waiting out in the hallway, the curtains to his room were closed, and what looked like at least half a dozen medical staff were in there.

I hugged my wife, not sure what to think, hope, or believe. I caught a glimpse of Aaron through the window. He looked unconscious, but peaceful.

None of the medical staff would share any information or answer any questions immediately. They told us to get some coffee, and that we would have to wait for "the doctor" to finish looking at "the results" (apparently yet another MRI had been done), and then she would come and speak with us.

"The doctor" turned out to be a face from our distant past. She was Dr. M., who had been our youngest son Shalom's pulmonologist thirteen years ago, when he suffered from his breathing problems and had a tracheotomy tube [a story for another time]. By coincidence, she was the ranking physician on duty that night. Or perhaps the only one present who was willing to even try to deal with circumstances like these.

The waiting period, until Dr. M. was ready to speak with us, was interminable, and we became increasingly frantic. Finally, Dr. M. ushered us into a small office and asked us to take seats. More waiting while she and a staff member tried unsuccessfully to bring up the MRI results on their computer screen. The delay seemed to stretch out endlessly, though it couldn't have been more than a few moments.

Finally, all the preliminaries appeared to be complete - or maybe Dr. M. realized she could postpone the inevitable no longer. She turned to us, her face unreadable. But the words she spoke were all too clear. As clear as a primal scream.

"Mr. and Mrs. Rosenfeld, your son's brain tumor has bled through from the cerebellum to the brain stem. The brain stem had been severely damaged."

The room seemed to shrink around me. As if from a great distance away, Dr. M.'s voice continued, further detailing the medical ramifications of brain stem damage. Explanations that I neither needed, nor had any desire to hear. Words to just fill the awful, deadly silence of that office. But for long moments, I could not speak. I was utterly numb with shock.

Finally, I was able to stammer out. "Are you saying.. that his brain... is... dead?"

The time for pretense, for denial, was, apparently, finally past. "Yes, unfortunately that is what has happened. I'm so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Rosenfeld."

She kept talking, but her words no longer made sense. I looked despairingly at Debbie, and spoke to no-one in particular, perhaps out loud, perhaps only in the pit of my soul.

"He's gone? He's really... gone?? How can this be? He.. he.. wasn't even so sick until just tonight, was he? We were just... today... we were... it's really... over?" My babbling trailed off.

Debbie and I, holding hands like lost children, burst into tears.

There was nothing more to say.

to be continued

Link to Aaron's Story: Part Four


At 9/23/05, 10:48 AM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

When we heard Sunday morning that Aaron was in the hospital, we had a lot of Friday's information so we could tell ourselves that it wasn't so bad.
I had some sense, I guess when you told that you had talked to Rabbi Tendler. But I kept on hoping.
When I left Sunday afternoon, I remember, in my ignorance, I said something to you that even if it was inoperable maybe there was still some treatment possible (thinking radiation or chemo). When you told me that there wasn't anything they could do, it felt like a final airhole had closed and I was suffocating.
I realized then that the only thing we were praying for was a nes (miracle).

At 9/23/05, 11:08 AM, Blogger Elie said...


I'll be covering those following couple of days in the next part of the story. It was a very difficult situation (on top of the tragedy itself) because we knew there was no medical hope, but how could we tell that to the whole community that was saying tehillim for us and offering well-meaning advice? We had to just let it happen, and feel like the prayers were for rachamim [mercy] in whatever form that was meant to take.

At 9/23/05, 12:11 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

I said tehillim with my children for your son that Sunday too, even though I did more or less know what the sitation was medically.
(I'm actually a friend of your brother-in-law although I found your blog through Mirty. You can email me if you are curious.)

There is no reason not to ask God for what you desperately want no matter what science or medicine says. I felt that very strongly at the time and I still do. I hope the community has been there for you, and will continue through these dark and rocky time, and the good ones still to come.

Your openness is an inspiration to me - even through my tears I feel that much closer to my own children and that much luckier for everything in my life.

At 9/23/05, 12:40 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I can't offer anything other than I am so sorry for this. I don't know if that counts for anything but I cannot sit her in silence either.

At 9/23/05, 3:44 PM, Blogger benros52589 said...

i learnt even if something is bad tefilla can change even what is seemingly certain i will remain to b amazed that u continue to tell the story i would think one day is enough but i must be wrong

At 9/24/05, 12:51 AM, Blogger Stacey said...

I cannot imagine the pain you have endured. I am so very sorry for your loss.

At 9/24/05, 11:30 PM, Blogger momof4 said...

I am so sorry. I have no other words to offer.

At 9/25/05, 6:43 PM, Blogger JC said...

I know that there is nothing that I could ever say that would make any of this easier for you in any way, or I would be grappling with finding the words. I know though, that there is very little comfort for what you are going through. I think that you needed to tell this in some way, so we are here, reading, crying and praying for your family. I am so sorry.

At 9/25/05, 8:07 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Thanks to everybody for their words of comfort and support. It does help knowing that I'm not reliving this alone. and that so many of you take the time to read and comment.

At 9/25/05, 9:26 PM, Anonymous Yaakov Menken said...

I appreciate your sharing, in part because I get answers to the questions I would never have asked you. The reason no one can say anything besides "I'm sorry" is that this is a type of pain no one but another bereaved parent can even imagine. Who of us could claim to "know what you are feeling?" It would all be a lie. It's hard enough feeling the loss of a nephew -- remembering going over the SAT questions last Chanukah time. He knew it all...

Btw, I didn't comment earlier on "Frayed, Frazzled, and Frustrated," but I'm entirely with you on that one. I think your observation is more accurate than the conventional wisdom.

At 9/26/05, 1:08 AM, Blogger Mirty said...

I don't know what to say. I don't know how you both have lived through this and kept your sanity, your belief, your strength to keep on going. Even if at times you do feel depleted, which just makes sense.

Regarding Shifra's comment: Certainly is a small blogworld, and it's good to know you have friends and family thinking of you!

At 9/26/05, 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Even I feel guilty for leaving the hospital Saturday night. But how could you have known? How could anyone have known? We all asumed we had a long ordeal ahead of us and would need to conserve physical and emotional energy. Both Debbie and yourself were incredible parents to Aaron and he left us knowing that. Despite the fact that I already know what happened, down to almost every little detail, I eagerly anticipate each new installment of Aaron's story. I found myself checking back a number of times to see if you had finally posted. I think you are continuing to help us all heal as you did during the whole ordeal. G-d give you strength...



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