In the Image of God
Flashbacks, mixed dreams floating under closed eyelids, Sharon struggles to surface from her underwater pictures.
Where am I know this can’t be right why I can’t get past these images? What is going on here?
As Sharon struggles to open her eyes a sudden vivid memory pops into her head.
“Sharon wake up do you know where you are?”
She tries again to shake off the whirlwind in her mind and respond but to no avail.
Another memory bombards her now, darkness and loud noises invade her mind. Sharon wants to escape this memory so badly but she can’t seem to get out. Tears start rolling down her cheeks.
“Look, she’s crying,” one of the nurses points to her.
“Come on Sharon, come on you can do this.”
Her eyelids flutter open for a second and she is off on another memory. Loud music flows into her being and she is surrounded by many well-wishers. The kallah grabs her into the center to dance and she becomes caught up in a swirl of happiness. As the music slows down and stops the kallah gives her a quick last hug and the new couple go prancing off to start their life. Sharon is left standing there feeling lost and alone. The darkness surrounds her again and she lets herself crawl back into a place of no memories.
Unbeknownst to Sharon her husband and her newly married daughter are anxiously keeping vigil by her bedside in the coma unit. A full week has passed since Sharon was brought in unconscious to the emergency room.
The last night of her daughter Sarah’s sheva brachas, Sharon had been working late and had taken her own car that fateful evening never expecting anything was amiss.
As she was driving home she suddenly felt an overwhelming weakness in her right side and then she passed out. Sharon collapsed unexpectedly in her car a passerby noticed and thankfully called an ambulance. Since then as hard as she tried she could not wake up.
Sounds buzzed incessantly around her but she could not find her way back to them. The staff on the coma unit was working hard to stimulate her and wake her up but so far no luck.
The days blurred into nights and back around. Sharon could hear the voices around her but could not swim her way back from the thick blackness. Memories continued to swirl in her mind and would surface without warning..
She tried to understand these images but they popped up without any rhyme or reason. Sometimes they were pleasant and sometimes not. Her latest memory was of a young girl about 3 years old dressed in a party dress on her way to a family simcha. This child radiated another worldly light and Sharon felt herself being drawn after her radiance but just as she was about to touch her the child fades away. This left Sharon feeling drained and confused.
What is going on, where am I? Sometimes I feel as if I am snuggled in a warm and fuzzy blanket and other times I feel as cold as ice.
Just this morning, she again heard familiar voices speaking close to her and she tried to focus on the meaning of their conversation but even that was too much for her to process.
She could hear the sounds surrounding her rise and fall and as much as she struggled to open her eyes her body refused to obey her commands.
Wait, here are those voices again please let me respond to them somehow I feel they are connected to me.
“Abba,” asked Sarah, “what did the doctors say this morning?”
She had come to relieve her dad for a few hours.
“Nothing new we just need to be patient she could wake up at any time or she can G-d forbid remain in a coma and never wake up. Basically they have no idea my daughter.”
Simon sighed long and loud trying to stifle a sob.
Oh how he wanted to be strong for his only daughter but he was terribly distraught. His unconscious wife’s indefinite recovery was burning a huge hole in his heart. Still, somehow he needed to be an example of Emunah among all this confusion.
“Abba, go home now. Soon Moshe will be here and we’ll stay till the end of visiting hours.”
“Oh my sweet child what a way to start your married life.” Simon looked at her with sad eyes. “I am so sorry you have to go through this.”
His negative tone startled Sarah.
“Abba, you always taught me that everything is for our own good. We don’t have to understand we just have to trust the things that seem bad will in the end be for the best.”
Simon gazed lovingly at his daughter.
“How lucky am I to have such a special daughter,” and for a moment his tired face lit up with pleasure.
“Okay I am going now, and I will call you later for an update.”
After Simon left Sarah sat down and stared off into space. The only noise breaking the deep silence was the breathing machine. All of a sudden the machine started beeping crazily and a nurse rushed into the room.
Nurse Susie, one of the most experienced nurses in the coma unit, was the first to respond.
“Move aside dear”, she gently said, she took Sarah’s hand and guided her out of the room.
“What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
Sarah began to panic as Susie left her and the staff began running into the room. The chaos level escalated as doctors yelled out instructions. The high pitch wailing of the machine pounded her brain.
“Ima, my Ima what’s happening?”
“It’s okay just relax. They are working on your mom now,” Susie rushed by to get a medication. “The best thing you can do now is prayers.”
Sarah watched the door to her mother’s room hoping to hear a kind word from the nurse again but all she heard was the sound of her own fear. She decided to take nurse Susie’s advice and tearfully began to say tehillim.
After a long haul, the hospital staff finally managed to stabilize her, but nurse Susie still couldn’t shake a deep feeling of sadness. All this, for what? I don’t get it. She shook her head to clear it and briskly set about her required tasks.
Five minutes later Sarah’s husband Menachem arrived to find his wife in tears. Having no real idea what to do he quietly approached her and joined in with her tehillim. She smiled gratefully and went back to her davening.
After about five minutes she looked up, “Menachem can you call Abba? I got so confused I didn’t call him.”
Just then one of the doctors came out of her mother’s room and addressed her “We called your father already, he’ll be here soon.”
“Oh, so what’s going on?”
“Sorry young lady I can’t tell you anything we must wait for you father.”
“Please just tell me if she’s okay?! The machine has stopped making all that noise, that must be a good sign, right?”
“If I were you, I’d keep praying,” he said, and then strolled off.
Sarah was shocked by this response and looked helplessly at Menachem. He noticed her despair and hurried to bring her some water. He then steered her to a nearby chair and helped her to sit down. The joy of her new marriage was fading fast, clouded by fear and worry.
Simon came running onto the ward just a few seconds later, took one look at Sarah’s face and stopped short in his tracks.
Gasping for breath he squeaked, “Sarah, is she gone?”
Sarah burst into tears, “They won’t tell us anything they will only tell you. I was in the room and that horrible machine started beeping and squealing and then they took me out. Oh, Abba please find out what’s going on! I can’t take it anymore.”
“Okay Sarah, I’m going to talk to a doctor right now, just be strong. It’s all in Hashem’s hands.”
Simon quickly turned away so his daughter and son-in-law couldn’t see his own fear.
He then dashed to the nurses’ station to try to get an update on his wife.
“Excuse me, how is my wife, Sharon?”
An overworked nurse looked up briefly from her charting, “Mr. Goodman, I’m so glad you were able to get here so quickly. I will page the doctor to come now.”
Simon was trying very hard to keep his cool, his insides were shaking and his knees felt weak.
The nurse noticed his pallor and quickly put down her paperwork and asked him to step into the nurses’ lounge to await the doctor’s arrival.
He sat down slowly.
My heart is beating so fast I just don’t know how much more I can take. I just can’t shake the feeling this is going to be a fatal encounter.
Meanwhile back in Sharon’s room the crisis was calming down but sadly she seemed to have slipped further away.
Susie the was last remaining nurse was cleaning up the emergency equipment. She looked gloomily at the unconscious patient in front of her.
“You sure are a fighter! We all thought it was over… I just hope you family decides to let you go peacefully. I hate to see you suffer.”
Nurse Susie was not a cruel person. She just felt that extraordinary measures would only prolong this patient’s life to no end. After her many years as a nurse, she just couldn’t shake the feeling that Sharon was at the end.
I know that religious Jews have so much faith, but I just find it strange that they always refuse to pull the plug. It’s not my right to judge, and as a nurse, I want to help people recover, but somehow it just upsets me all the same. Well, I better stop thinking like this. I have to do my best to make this poor lady as comfortable as possible.
The conversation between Simon and the doctor followed along the exact same lines:
“Look, I know you are a religious man Mr. Goodman, and I respect your beliefs. But I believe your wife’s life is coming to an end, and maybe if your Rabbi heard my expert opinion we could make you wife a DNR (do not recessitate). Why would you bother to revive her if she’s going to be brain dead, anyway?”
Simon looked as if he’d just been bitten by a snake. He jumped up and forcefully replied, “Thank you for your opinion, doctor, but I respectfully refuse to make my wife a DNR. I’m sure you are a very knowledgeable man, but this is my right, so please make sure it’s clearly written in her chart and next to her bed – all life saving measures are to be used!”
Seeing Mr. Goodman’s resolve, the doctor reluctantly agreed and bade him farewell.
Sharon had understood everything. She was desperately trying to signal to the nurse that she was still inside and did not want to be left to pass away. She wanted them to fight for her with all their power. Unfortunately, nurse Susie didn’t see the very slight movement of her hand and she left the room convinced all was lost.
Sharon was exhausted by all the day’s events, and fell back into her sea of memories. The bright images danced in sequence before her, spurring her on to continue fighting.
Please Simon, don’t let them make you give up on me! I am fighting to come back. I know it looks as if I’m gone, but I’m still here! Sometimes, I feel myself floating but something always pulls me back to this world. I only wish I could give you a sign, but I am locked in between two worlds and although I can think my body won’t react.
After the doctor left, Simon slowly got up and plodded back to his waiting family. He felt the weight of this unbearable burden dragging him into an almost lethargic state.
“Abba, what’s going on?”, his daughter anxiously cried. “You were gone for such a long time.”
Menachem noticed his father-in-law’s despondent state and immediately got up and ran to him.
“Sarah, he said, give your Abba a minute to sit, I can see he needs to regroup.”
Sarah quickly looked at her Abba and suddenly realized how drained he looked.
“Oh sorry. I’m just so worried. Abba, take your time, we are here to help you not pressure you.”
“Here’s the story:” Simon paused, shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs of his mind and continued. “The doctor’s feel there is very little hope and they want to remove the life support.”
Sarah gasped and started to say something, but a quick look from Menachem silenced her.
Simon pretended not to notice his daughter’s agitation.
“But they understand that we’re religious Jews, so we will not even consider doing that. So the doctors have agreed to wait a bit more. We need to storm shamayim with our tefillahs, and not give up hope!”
Sarah burst into tears again but this time she didn’t panic. As she cried she felt her heart open and real prayer escaped from every pore in her skin.
“Abba, I finally get it… this really is only up to Hashem. I am finally seeing that you are right, and that we need to trust Hashem – and no-one else.”
Smiling bravely she got up and asked her husband and Abba to join her and they walked slowly but strongly toward her mother’s room.
It was quiet in Sharon’s room, except for the steady beeping of the machines that were keeping her vital signs going.
As the chairs were drawn closer to the bed, Simon began to speak softly.
“Until now I always believed that no matter what tests came my way, I was steadfast in my faith and I would be able to just let things go according to Hashem’s plan,” he started murmuring. “Today as we face this horrible challenge, I find myself wondering if I can continue to watch your mother like this. I know in my head that we must let each person live until Hashem takes them but in my heart? I just don’t know.”
He stopped talking and fell into a deep contemplative state.
Menachem and Sarah felt for him deeply and they all sat their quietly for the next few minutes each lost in their multitude of feelings.
After about five minutes of this painful silence, Sarah looked at her mother and began speaking to her softly.
“Ima we are hoping for your recovery, even though the doctors want us to give up. But we won’t! Only Hashem is in charge… Deep inside, I know you are fighting. So Ima, come back! We are waiting for your return.”
Surprisingly, she did not cry and both Simon and Menachem felt a small glow of optimism flow into their beings.
Sharon who still remained a silent partner to their kaleidoscope of emotions heard and felt each word.
Hashem help me! I want to return to my family, I want to live. I don’t know what your plans are and I don’t begin to try to understand why we are all suffering like this, but please let me go back!
Without realizing it Sharon began to move her lips no sounds escaped but suddenly Sarah noticed it.” Look at Ima, she cried, “her lips seem to be moving! Quickly run and call a doctor.”
Menachem shot up from his chair and ran to find a doctor. He was so excited he accidently knocked into one of the young interns who asked him what the rush was.
“She’s moving her lips! Please come with me.”
The doctor and Menachem raced off to the room, where the doctor looked intently at the patient. At first, he didn’t see anything, but then suddenly he saw Sharon’s lips begin to twitch. No sound emerged and the movement seemed to be involuntary.
“Did you see that?” Sarah exclaimed, “her lips are moving.”
Dr. Smith looked at the anxious faces of the family and replied, “I saw it, but to be honest I am not certain it means much.”
“What do you mean?” Simon asked, “She’s clearly trying to talk.”
“Well,” Dr. Smith cleared his throat, “it’s not a decisive enough movement to determine if she is aware of what she is really doing. I need to examine her closely. Please leave for a few moments.”
The doctor began to scrutinize Sharon who remained unresponsive and unchanged. He slowly completed his evaluation and only at the end did the doctor notice a very slight movement of her lips. This in itself was a bit unusual but he attributed it to an involuntary spasm. He sighed deeply and went to address the anxious family.
“I just completed my exam,” he said quietly “I did see a tiny movement of her lip but I do not want to give you false hope. The situation remains unchanged, and every day she remains in a coma her chances of regaining consciousness are less. I suggest you reconsider my suggestion to let her go peacefully.”
After saying his piece he shook his head and walked off.
Dr. Smith was not an insensitive man, he just believed medicine was infallible. He truly believed that his was just being realistic and trying to spare his patient and family any more extra suffering.
Simon and his small family were left in shock. They were devastated by the stark words of the doctor. They slowly made their way back to Sharon’s private room and began to silently daven for Rachamai Shamayim.
After about two hours of almost complete quiet Simon began to speak, “Children you go home. I will stay now. We must remember to see Hashem’s blessings and not give up hope.”
Forcing himself to smile he looked kindly at them and shooed them out the door.
As the time for Mincha and Maariv approached, Simon left to go daven after asking the nurses to keep an eye on his wife for the next hour or so.
Nurse Susie was on duty and she readily agreed to pop in regularly on Sharon. She had grown fond of the silent patient, she could see by her family that she must be a special lady. Their unflappable faith had made a deep impression on her, despite her own religious skepticism.
Who knows, maybe something will happen and she will wake up… But then who knows if she will ever be ok? I guess I’ll never totally understand the way these people think but I do find myself respecting them more. Their faith gives them a lot of strength and I do admire that. What you learn in training is nothing like what you learn in real life…
Simon davened purposely and with deep feeling. He passed by the cafeteria on the way back to the room and absently bought himself a sandwich and a drink, preparing for a long night ahead.
But he felt as though his faith had been restored a little, after davening, and he decided he just wasn’t going to give into despair. He unconsciously straightened his shoulders as he entered his wife’s sick room and immediately sat down and began speaking to her.
“Hi Sharon, I just had one of those davenings. You know the kind I mean, where you feel that connection with Hashem so strongly. You know you can do this don’t give up I can feel that you are still here… we need you. I can only try to imagine your fear and pain and I wish I knew how to make things better… but really it’s up to you. Keep fighting.”
The night moved on he remained next to Sharon’s beside talking and dozing only occasionally hoping to awaken Sharon with his attentions. At 7am, the first volunteer of the day arrived to give him some time to take a breather and he reluctantly left.
Sharon remained unchanged for a whole month.
While her family and friends tried their best to remain optimistic, the doctors continued to predict doom and gloom and tried to convince them to take her off the life support.
Sharon was locked in her world of images but she still heard all the things going on around her. As hard as she tried to answer or move, she just couldn’t. At times, something pulled her upwards and she thought it was her time to go, but then, just as she almost reached her destination, she felt herself falling back down.
Two more months passed and still the community stormed the heavens for her recovery.
Then one sunny morning, as nurse Susie was making her rounds, the miracle happened. Noises were coming from Sharon’s room.
Susie hurried in and found Sharon trying to sit up. “Relax Sharon, take it easy.” She pushed the emergency buzzer and the room began to fill up with medical staff. Simon, who was returning from just running to get a coffee, heard the noise and raced to his wife’s bedside.
Confusion ruled and everyone was shouting.
“Calm down!” shouted Dr. Smith. “Everyone take a step back and let me see the patient. Let her husband stand next me, and let’s see if she knows him.”
The room fell silent as the doctor examined her from head to toe. Unbelievably, everything seemed intact. Tears rolled down the faces of many in the room including nurse Susie, who could not believe her eyes.. A miracle had occurred and there was no denying it.
As the room seemed to hold its breath the tube came out Sharon’s throat, and she was encouraged to cough. After the tube’s removal, she tried to speak but only a squeak came out. The doctor reassured her, it could take time for her speech to return.
Simon was completely overwhelmed. With tears streaming down his face, he called his daughter and son-in-law to come and joyfully stood by his wife’s bedside.
Finally, just nurse Susie and the doctor remained. “Well, now we just need to see how her recovery shapes up. We won’t know the extent of any damage for a few days,” Doctor smith said almost jauntily, and then left the room.
Nurse Susie started giggling in spite of herself.”Dr. Gloom has spoken! Even witnessing a miracle like this couldn’t crack his pessimism,” she observed.
Simon and Sharon did not even notice when Susie also left the room, they just sat there staring intensely at each other, joy radiating out of their eyes.
After a full year of long hard work, Sharon was functioning completely and became a world-renowned speaker on Emunah. Nurse Susie became a lifelong friend of the family and even Dr. Smith grudgingly smiled, just the once, when she was finally discharged.