Life in General

Trauma ICU, Matzah and Miracles; The Full Story

I wrote this article for the Nshei Chabad Newsletter; it was featured in the Nissan 5783 issue, celebrating one year from this miracle.

Tuesday Morning, Chai Nissan, I packed some food while grumbling that I had to take my pesach chocolate-banana-walnut muffins to eat instead of my customary boxful of Resimans brownie bars that I usually indulge in right after birth, and my husband and I headed to the hospital. Relieved to have the hecticness of the sedarim behind us, I was looking forward to giving birth and being back home in time for the second days; to bask in the joy of Pesach and enjoy the time with all my kids home.

It had been an uneventful and pretty typical pregnancy and labor and delivery went smoothly too. Late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, at 1:00 am, baby Chaya Mushka was born; she was perfect, weighing 9 lb. It was really a girl! It was magical and hard to believe. I had the nurses double check to make sure, because I had given up on such a possibility! Just one week shy of being sixteen years younger than her only sister, Mushka broke our pattern of 9 boys.We couldn’t wait to share the news with the world, who was fast asleep already.

It was in the next few minutes that things went off script; there seemed to be more bleeding than usual. Initially, the doctor wasn’t concerned; she was sure that a simple procedure would take care of it. 

And that’s the last memory that I have of that night; the five days that followed are blank.

Five days of family, friends and complete strangers praying for my survival, acts of goodness and kindness being done across the world for my recovery, all while my husband sat at my bedside, monitoring every moment of my care and praying for a miracle. 

What seemed to be a minor issue rapidly escalated into a full blown crisis. While my husband was left alone in the delivery room with our newborn, I was hemorrhaging at a dangerous rate. They came to update him briefly after an hour and then disappeared again back to the OR. After a few hours of multiple attempts at procedures to stop the bleeding and receiving transfusions, I was finally stabilized. Considering the amount of blood loss, I was sent to the trauma unit to recover. The nurses took my baby to take care of her and told my husband to head to the Trauma ICU unit and he would be able to see me shortly.

About an hour after being settled in the trauma unit, a nurse realized something was amiss; my vitals were not good and my lips were colorless. Before my husband even had the opportunity to come in and see me, my body went into DIC, Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation, a rare but life threatening condition that causes abnormal blood clotting throughout the body’s blood vessels. Multiple surgeons were called in as they tried to save me. I began to go into organ failure from the immense blood loss; my kidneys, my liver and my intestines. My husband stood knocking on the doors to the trauma unit, and then banging, trying to figure out what was going on. 

Yossi adds: I was just outside the delivery room saying the customary Tehillim and I heard the doctor expressing surprise at the amount of bleeding. Something about her tone of voice made me a little concerned but I continued what I was doing. A few minutes later, with a little more urgency in her voice, the doctor made the decision to wheel Goldie out to surgery. Goldie asked something about whether the doctor was concerned and she answered “No, it should be a very routine procedure. We do it all the time.”

But when they wheeled Goldie out, she didn’t look right – she was extremely pale and seemed very weak. After all the bustle of the delivery, I suddenly found myself alone in the room with my 20 minute old baby daughter. 

I waited for a nurse to arrive to complete the post birth care of the baby but it seemed to take forever. I finally went down the hall to the nurses station and called someone. While the nurse was there dealing with the baby, another nurse came in with paperwork for me to sign for Goldie’s surgery. They asked me a couple of questions and had me sign off on a number of procedures, including blood transfusions. I asked if everything was ok and the nurse answered somewhat cryptically that it will be. 

Meanwhile the baby was ready to eat, I prepared a bottle and fed her. After feeding her and holding her for a bit (and updating relatives about the news, which I realized we hadn’t yet done) I put her down and sat down on the couch in the room to catch my breath. 

It suddenly occurred to me that since writing when Goldie had gone into labor I hadn’t sent a tzetel to the Ohel. I sent a quick note asking for a bracha, the first of at least a dozen that I sent over the next 12 hours. 

I must’ve dozed off for a bit when suddenly I was startled by the doctor talking to me. She explained that Goldie had experienced excessive bleeding, various procedures they had attempted had failed but she seems to have stabilized now. I asked when I could see her and was told that they had sent her down to Trauma ICU due to the excessive blood loss. 

The nurses were very helpful and offered to watch the baby while I went down to the Trauma ICU. At first they told me that I’d be able to come in and see her in a few minutes. After about 45 minutes and no one had come to call me, or answered the phone on the wall near the door, I knocked loudly on the door in the hope that someone would come and update me. 

Someone did open the door but they didn’t have news I wanted to hear. They said I’d have to wait a little longer and soon someone will come and update me. Meanwhile I noticed over their shoulder that there was a room with a lot of commotion in it. There must’ve been 15 people in the room and nurses were coming and going. Something told me it was Goldie’s room. 

I soon learned that I was right. 

The charge nurse came out and in his relatively measured voice he explained that some complications had come up and that the doctor would be out soon to update me. 

More waiting. At this point I was getting very worried. I sent a message to our family saying that some complications had come up and that they should say tehillim. But I didn’t realize the full extent of what was going on. 

After what felt like forever her doctor came out to update me. One look at her face and I feared the worst… her eyes were bloodshot and she seemed very upset… So when she proceeded to tell me that Goldie had gone into DIC and the surgeons were in there now trying to stabilize her, I was somewhat relieved. But then I made the mistake of Googling the condition and discovered that the mortality rate was 57%…

At this point I started messaging more people to request them to say Tehillim, as well as posting it on my WhatsApp status.

Finally one of the trauma surgeons came out and explained how they had stabilized Goldie using packing and a wound vac but they can’t know her prognosis until Friday when they’ll attempt to complete the process they had begun this morning. 

Goldie continues: It is tremendous Hashgacha Protis that I had taken with me to the hospital one canister of Cholov Yisroel Kosher L’Pesach formula; for every birth, I always packed formula so that I could hopefully get some shut eye and have a kind nurse do a feeding or two. Boruch Hashem, feeding Mushka was not a worry.

My husband immediately reached out to anyone he could think of to stop what they were doing and say Tehillim. Friends and family woke up to a message of joy and fear; It’s a girl! Say tehillim for Goldie.

The power of healing was given to the doctors. They performed a procedure involving a large incision in my abdomen, and packing my belly with sponges. After multiple transfusions, they were able to get the situation under control. The next 48 hours were critical; time would tell if my body would recover, and then if my organs would too. There was nothing they could do other than wait. And pray.

My husband sent periodic updates on social media but could not keep up with the outpouring of concern in hundreds of texts, WhatsApps and emails.

My sisters in New York went straight to the Ohel to daven on my behalf.

After 24 hours, I was extubated and showing signs of positive improvement. 

My medical team kept asking me questions to assess my mental state, and when they did I would start talking and then immediately switch to saying random pesukim of Tehillim. This happened multiple times throughout the day; at the time it just seemed strange, almost comical. In hindsight, it is so clear what was going on. There were thousands of people around the world saying tehillim for my recovery. I have often wondered where do the words of tehillim go when we pray for people. It is pretty clear; it is the blood flow and life force inside the person who is ill. It becomes the energy in their body, a power that heals. There is no doubt in my mind that all that Tehillim circulating in my body is what brought my body and my organs back to a full recovery. It makes perfect sense that at that vulnerable time, when I opened my mouth to speak, the Tehillim came tumbling out, because that’s what I had in me.

Yossi adds: Though I had to stay in the hospital longer than anticipated, thanks to the support of community members and nearby shluchim, we were able to ensure that the rest of the family had as normal a time as possible. I was even able to arrange for the younger kids to be taken on a Chol Hamoed trip. 

Being in the hospital with my wife in critical condition is extremely taxing to say the least. In addition there are constant decisions to be made and many questions that keep arising. I was very fortunate to be put in touch with a few doctors from Anash who provided amazing guidance and support the entire time.

Goldie started responding to questions, though she would lapse in and out – often saying random pesukim in tehillim. At one point she started saying birchas kohanim in response to a question from the nurse. 

I went home to gather food and seforim and other supplies for the last days of Pesach. The hospital graciously provided a room for me and our newborn (who by now was named Chaya Mushka) to stay in over Yom Tov, and even arranged for nurses to care for her so I could be with Goldie. 

I also brought with me a Tzedakah Pushka and a Mezuzah. I left a cup with coins next to the Pushka and began encouraging the doctors and nurses to give a coin to Tzedakah when they entered the room. 

When I got back to the hospital Goldie was a lot more coherent than she had been earlier. She asked me what was going on but didn’t fully grasp what was happening. But she was coherent enough that we were able to make a quick video call with the rest of the kids at home before Yom Tov started, something Goldie has no memory of. This was a real bracha since it eased the family’s anxiety significantly. 

Once Yom Tov started however, they changed the medication that Goldie was receiving and by Friday morning, Shvii Shel Pesach, she was incoherent. The doctors however were pleased with her progress thus far and decided to continue with the planned procedure. They insisted that her mental state was simply due to the medication and would resolve itself.

Goldie continues: Shvii Shel Pesach arrived very differently than planned. A nearby shlucha generously sent over food for all the meals, my husband packed up and moved into the hospital and my parents took care of the rest.

I was scheduled for one last surgery on Friday morning at 10 am, Shvii Shel Pesach. The procedure would determine if my body was indeed on the road to recovery. 

I was wheeled into surgery and a short time later they reported to my husband that the surgeons were pleased with what they saw and the surgery was successful. My husband looked forward to me joining him for Moshiach’s Seuda from my bed the next evening, when we could finally celebrate Yom Tov together.

However, another crisis arose. An arterial line had been placed in my femoral artery and was used for the multiple transfusions and now had to be removed. It wasn’t a simple decision since the clotting factors in my blood was low, however leaving it in would create tremendous risk for infection.  Weighing the two odds, the doctor made the best possible decision and removed it. 

Once again, it was a nurse who was keeping an eye on me in recovery who noticed something was amiss; my lips were colorless. She quickly alerted the doctors and as they feared, the artery did not clot. For hours they applied pressure to my leg, trying to stop the internal bleeding. My leg kept filling with blood, causing deep tunneling and the situation was getting critical. Once again, I needed consistent transfusions to keep up with the blood loss, bringing the total to over 30 units. Decisions had to be made, there were so many risks. Meanwhile, my mental state had gotten affected. Regardless of what I was asked, I was delirious and not in my right mind. I was singing, screaming, talking nonsense. I was finally stabilized with a huge leg split holding everything in place. 

Friday night, as my husband sang Eishes Chayil at his makeshift shabbos table in my hospital room, he paused at one point, when suddenly I filled in the rest of the sentence. He was overjoyed, hoping that perhaps this was a sign that my mind was still there. But a short while later my heart rate spiked – the internal bleeding had resumed.

Again, emergency transfusions, doctors and nurses trying to stop the bleeding. But nothing was working. At midnight Friday night, with the bleeding continuing, there was no choice but to call in a vascular surgeon and I was intubated and taken in for surgery once again; a large incision was made in my upper leg to manually stitch the artery. There was internal damage to my leg; a wound VAC was placed on it to minimize infection and speed up the healing.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as my vitals and blood work slowly started moving towards normal. I was extubated once again on Shabbos (Achron Shel Pesach) afternoon. 

My mental state however continued to be out of control. I was awake and singing soprano – something I don’t even know how to do! I didn’t respond to questions of what my name is or even to just squeeze the doctor’s hand.

My husband kept asking the doctors if this was temporary or a new reality; they couldn’t give definite answers. All they could tell him was that it’s very possible it’s just the medication and I will come out of it within the next week.

Motzei Shabbos once again, my husband’s phone was flooded with messages from concerned family and friends, asking for an update; Boruch Hashem the surgery was successful, was all he could say. She needs a lot of Tehillim, keep davening.

Yossi adds: On Friday afternoon when Goldie was experiencing the internal bleeding and all the doctors rushed in to try and get it under control, typical hospital protocol was that I should be sent out to the waiting room. Goldie’s nurse was very understanding however and allowed me to stay at the nurses station. She advised me to not interfere with the doctors or she would have to send me out. Thankfully I was able to remain there and sat at the nurses’ station saying tehillim the entire time. 

It was difficult to see and hear – Goldie was in a lot of pain and they were applying significant pressure to try and stem the bleeding. After close to two hours they managed to get it under control. 

Soon after I made kiddush on Friday night I noticed her heart rate rapidly rising and alerted the nurse. After about 20 minutes with her heart rate continuing to get higher and higher the doctors determined that the bleeding had started again.

While they tried to slow the bleeding by manually applying pressure they began exploring options. Meanwhile I tried to reach the frum doctors I had been in touch with before Yom Tov. I couldn’t get through – it was two in the morning by this time. I had the idea to call Hatzala and ask for the Crown Heights coordinator. He had heard of Goldie’s situation and was helpful in getting a doctor on the line who was able to confirm that the procedure that the local surgeons had decided upon was the best option. 

I looked on helplessly as Goldie was once again wheeled off to the Operating Room. There was nothing left for me to do except wait and say more tehillim. By this time I had probably finished the entire tehillim three times already.

It was very disheartening seeing her wheeled back into the room, intubated once again. The doctors explained that they had sedated her to ensure that the procedure worked and that she would likely be extubated within 24 hours.

Before the end of Shabbos she was extubated but unlike the first time she was extubated, she was completely incoherent.

I sang all the niggunim and had Moshiach Seuda next to her bed – hoping that at some point she might respond appropriately but all I got was incoherent singing and shouting. Yom Tov ended, I made havdala and began to respond to all the concerned people who had reached out.

Goldie continues: On Sunday, Isru Chag, day 5 of since my baby was born, a dear friend and shlucha, Mushky Shmotkin from Alameda, reached out to my husband that she had something she wanted to bring over for me. She drove with her family two hours to our home to deliver a most precious item; matzah from the Rebbe. Over 30 years old, she was ready to part with this holy piece of matzah in the hope it would offer the healing powers that it possesses and aid in the recovery. Only later did she tell me how on Shvii Shel Pesach she thought of the matzah she had from her grandfather, Rabbi Nachman Sukah A”H, who had gotten it from the Rebbe all those years ago. She wished she would have thought of the idea to give it to me earlier, but since it was already Yom Tov,  it seemed too late. During the Moshiach Seduah, she pulled out a Derher and opened to a page to read – the page in front of her had pictures of the Rebbe giving kos shel bracha to Chassidim on Motzei Yom Tov and a quote of the Rebbe telling someone to get the leftover matzah from a certain person and bring it to his friend who was sick. Mushki understood what the Rebbe was telling her; it was not too late to bring the matzah after Yom Tov. The next day she brought this holy and cherished piece of matzah to my husband.

Sunday night at 9 pm, my husband mixed the matzah into a purée and fed it to me. I had passed the swallowing test only hours before. I ate the entire purée, although still completely oblivious to what was happening.

At 6 am Monday morning, just 9 hours after eating the holy matzah, I suddenly noticed a nurse leaning over me. I looked up and could see something sticking out above my head.

“What’s on my head?” I innocently asked, completely unaware of what the past few days had been.

She nearly fainted; I was making sense! I was talking!

She showed me a sign by my bed that said my hair is to remain covered. “That’s just a head covering, I’m making sure your hair is covered.”

I stared at her blankly; I had no idea where I was and how I got there, and how she knew I kept my hair covered.

I looked at the left arm rail of my hospital bed. There was a picture of a baby with a pink hat with an oversized flower. “Do you know who that is?” The nurse asked. I shook my head no. I was drawing a blank. “You had a baby!” she told me cheerfully.

I looked at her in confusion; “But I wasn’t pregnant!” was all I could say.

I couldn’t retrieve any memories.

I looked at the left bed rail; although it felt blurry, the moment I saw the picture there, I knew it was the Rebbe. Like a lense on a camera coming into focus, I saw the Rebbe’s smile and suddenly it was not fuzzy. I was in a hospital room. And this was real. 

And all I could say is, “What happened?! Why am I here?!”

I still couldn’t  remember giving birth.

“What’s your name?” “What’s your birthday?” “Tell us the name of your children!” I couldn’t figure out why they were so overjoyed that I got the answers correct, of course I knew these answers! I was completely unaware that just a few hours  before I couldn’t answer any of them.

My husband, who had gone home to get my kids ready for school, came back shortly after. When he left I had been in my delirious state; he walked in just a few hours later to see me smiling and talking; I will never forget the look on his face as he walked in and I casually said, “Hi Yossi”, completely unaware of what he had been through the past few days; the look of sheer disbelief, overwhelming relief and complete joy. It was only then, after seeing his reaction, that I realized that something really big had happened. 

Yossi adds: Just before I left the hospital after Yom Tov to bring Mushka home, a neurologist had come in to check Goldie. After doing a few tests he was optimistic that her mental state wasn’t permanently altered and her current inchorence was a result of all the medication in her system and the fact that her liver and kidneys weren’t functioning properly. The question was whether her organs would heal. I asked him whether there was anything we could do to help and he answered, “pray”.

While his response worried me – upon reflection it encouraged me as well. The surgeon came back and changed the dressings on her various wounds and expressed more or less the same thing; “There’s nothing we can do medically right now – we have to wait and see”.”

I was reminded of what I had been reading over Yom Tov where the Rebbe explains that true bitachon is when there are no physical solutions and we simply turn to Hashem to resolve the matter. It was challenging to realize but also somewhat heartening, it’s in Hashem’s hands and it will be good!

I had a mug with me that we had distributed this past Purim to our community with the words “Think Good and it will be good” on it and I had it with me in the hospital over Yom Tov. I had shown it to the nurses and doctors and it was continuing to remind me to Tracht Gut and that it would certainly zayn gut.

When I got the call from the Shmotkins I was overwhelmed with emotion – not only were they willing to drive over two hours each way, they were going to give us a piece of something priceless, some of the Rebbe’s matzah!

I was sure that this would change everything and after making sure that Goldie ate all the purée with the Rebbe’s matzah in it, I waited to see what would happen. 

I left the hospital late at night and slept at home. I got up at 5 am and called the hospital but I was disappointed to learn that the situation was the same. No changes. In the background I could hear Goldie calling out incoherently…

I waited for the kids to get up, made sure they were ready for cheder and left for the hospital. When I walked into Goldie’s room I noticed that the physical therapist was there. He had come yesterday but couldn’t get any response from Goldie. Seeing him made me excited, “Has she started responding?” I asked. 

Instead of the physical therapist replying, Goldie did. “Hi Yossi,” she said, in a weak but unmistakable voice. I was floored, I didn’t know what to do and say. I couldn’t believe it! Goldie was finally coherent again!! I don’t usually cry but I was crying and laughing at the same time. Baruch HaShem!!

Goldie continues: I saw my husband typing furiously on his phone but was unsure what he was doing.

He showed me the status he was posting for the hundreds of people waiting for an update:

Goldie is awake and responding!!

“Tell me what happened!” I pleaded. “I’m so confused.” 

I tried to adjust myself, but I couldn’t. My fingers, my legs – everything was swollen.

My husband looked at me and said calmly, “You were very sick.”

What? It can’t be! Not me, that’s not my type!

“For real, you were really sick. The whole world was davening for you.” I couldn’t process it. “We are going to make a big seudas hodaah.” I looked at him blankly.

“Why are my arms and legs purple?”

You had a huge hematoma.

And Pesach is over.

“When was Pesach?” I asked, confused. I couldn’t remember the sedarim. “Who is watching the kids?” 

“Your parents,” my husband reminded me.

“How did they get here so quickly?” 

“They came before Pesach, remember? They have been here for almost two weeks already.”

Slowly my husband told me all that had happened; that I gave birth and the complications and terrifying days that followed. While I couldn’t dig up any memories of giving birth, I believed him, especially when he left and came back a short while later with my 6 day old baby girl!

I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t sit up, I couldn’t turn over, I couldn’t stand and I couldn’t hold my baby. She was placed on me, as she had been, unbeknownst to me, every single day that I was there. I had two big wound sites, one with 17 staples, and a second held closed with the wound VAC.

But I could eat. And the irony? In the end the first thing I (lucidly) ate after giving birth was Reisman’s brownie bars, since Pesach was long over.

And all I wanted to do was drink. Although I didn’t remember being intubated multiple times, my body did. And my body was recovering from the thirst. The little apple juice containers the hospital offers tasted magical; I downed ice cupful after ice cupful, I couldn’t stop.

My husband told me the unbelievable kindness that we were lucky to be the recipients of. The Shluchim Refuah helpline at Merkos 302 had guided him to incredible support; doctors who made themselves available at all times of day or night, on Shabbos, Yom Tov or weekday, to give advice on procedures and care. Dr Avi Rosenberg of Baltimore and Dr. Zev Nelkin of New York were there for us every step of the way, helping my husband maneuver each challenge those first days, from all the way across the country. They continued to advise us through my healing and recovery, supporting us step by step. Friends and family from around the world and our local shlichus community rose to the occasion in ways we could never have imagined. My kids were flooded with gifts, games, trips and treats to no end. My parents managed the homefront and my kids were happy and well taken care of.

Monday afternoon my older kids came to visit; I was still on many medications and had a hard time keeping a conversation without dosing off after each sentence. I tried to lift my phone, which immediately fell out of my hand. I was shocked that I had never noticed just how heavy an iPhone was, practically the weight of a brick! My husband urged me to message my friends, since they were worried. I opened my phone and was greeted with my phone exploding in hundreds of texts, emails and messages. At first I couldn’t find the Whatsapp icon, I couldn’t press the right keys and the letters seemed to move off the screen. As I scrolled through message after message, I was overcome with emotion feeling everyone’s worry and concern. 

There were many texts and voice notes from frantic family members and friends asking me, “Goldie, what’s going on? Are you ok??”

Everyone had no idea at that time the extent of how critical things had been, how I was fighting for my life and how far I was from being able to respond.

Seeing my name written for tehillim and the amount of times the tehillim was completed for me was the most incredible hug of support that I could receive from around the world. 

It took effort to find the little microphone and leave a voice notes, something that I could do with my eyes closed during normal times. Slurring my words and still heavily medicated, I left a few voice notes for my family and friends to hear my voice and know I’m on the mend.

On Tuesday afternoon, all my children were able to come visit. The nurses in the trauma unit broke every rule to be able to accommodate our family; they prepared me in a wheeling bed/chair and took me out to a patio so my kids could see me. It was a joyful moment, after 8 days of being away, to be together again. I was very weak and exhausted, but my heart was so full. 

It was a difficult week in the hospital, I couldn’t do anything alone. We rejoiced when, with Herculean effort, I stood with a walker for about 10 seconds on Wednesday. The pain and effort it took was hard to comprehend. I couldn’t imagine ever getting back to normal. Did I really drive a 15 passenger daily with ease – how did I do it? I couldn’t help but wonder. The doctors discussed the possible need for dialysis as my kidneys were still not functioning properly; with much relief, each day my kidney and liver numbers slowly went closer to normal. 

With each passing day, bits and pieces of my memory slowly came back. I would suddenly just remember – cooking for Pesach, the first days of Yom Tov, coming to the hospital and giving birth.

The staff treated me like a queen, I was their pride and joy. They argued over taking turns holding my baby when my husband brought her to visit each day. They did everything they could to make us comfortable; they had witnessed the miracle. My older daughter turned 16 that week; the nurses excitedly helped setup my room for a surprise party since it was the first of its type in the Trauma ICU unit!

On Friday, ten days after giving birth, I was well enough to leave the Trauma ICU and head to rehab. It was an emotional goodbye as the nurses, doctors and surgeons who had stood by me and believed in me, and had been Hashem’s chosen messengers to heal me, came to see me one last time and send me off, overjoyed at my recovery. 

I was taken by ambulette to acute rehab and that’s where my husband and I spent Shabbos together, me confined to my bed, with an elaborate spread of the most delicious foods prepared by nearby shluchos, complete with cakes, teas and other delicacies. The food was not just rich in taste, it overflowed with care and love too. One beautiful outcome of being in such a vulnerable position is you can actually feel the care of others; when we are not wrapped in our layers of protective gear, layers of pride, ego and self-ness, the energy of kindness hits straight to your core. And it’s that kindness in so many shapes and forms that carried our family through this difficult time, surrounding us in a protective cloud of glory. I’ve always been a giver; as shluchim, my husband and I are constant givers. We enjoy giving. During my recovery, we were forced to be receivers. It takes great humility to receive, yet we discovered the beauty of being on the receiving end too. A giver can’t give if there’s no receiver; there is a deep bond formed from this relationship. While I was impatient to go back to being a giver, I knew that this was our time to receive. There’s a time for everything.

The week ahead was demanding; physical therapy included nothing more elaborate than walking. And it was hard. Sit to stand. Stand to sit. I got my very own walker. I took a few steps and had to rest. Occupational therapy included getting in and out of a mock car; a task that involved excruciating pain. I had my first shower in two weeks, a joy that’s hard to describe. And for the first time since being a head counselor in camp 20 years ago, I drank Slurpees again. Lots of them. Yup, ice cold slurpees that felt divine as it coursed through my body, ordered from my phone and delivered to my hospital room via Uber Eats. My body still remembered all that time being intubated. And so I drank all week, at all hours of the day and night. As the end of the week loomed, I had my eye on the goal. Go home for Shabbos.

All through the week my husband brought piles of cards to me that were coming in a steady stream in the mail; words of encouragement, words of love. Those cards brought strength. Each word, each line. Never underestimate the power of thoughtfulness, it brings healing like nothing else. Sometimes we doubt and then talk ourselves out of reaching out to someone, thinking we don’t want to bother them, they have so many other people reaching out. This is what I learnt: You can never go wrong with giving a kind word, message or text. Ever.

On Thursday I was evaluated by all the therapists and my social worker to see if I was ready to go home.

They all knew the full house and newborn that awaited me and the daily routine I was used to, they couldn’t fathom how I did what I did during normal times; how would I take care of them now? I couldn’t even walk unassisted. Was I really ready to go home?

It was hard to explain that when I would get home, my only responsibility was to take care of myself. To rest and nap and eat and rest. How to explain to the staff what it means- מי כעמך ישראל! That we had a safety net woven of family, friends, community and people the world over gifted us with financial assistance so that my husband could stay by my side and we would get all the means of help we would need for as long as we would need,  That my parents were ready to stay with us as long as we needed.  That my in laws would each fly in to help out. That my siblings would fly out to assist if needed.  That my cousin and her friend would hop in their car multiple times to drive two hours to our home to take my kids on fun trips. That our support system from all corners of the world had arranged meals for weeks to come. That despite having a full house, we are part of a nation that takes care of one another. I couldn’t fathom how people could get through challenges without it. 

With my heart overflowing with joy, on Friday afternoon, I was officially discharged and taken by wheelchair to my husband waiting in the car, rejoining normal society. Trembling with excitement, 18 days after coming to give birth, I was finally going home. There was much recovery and healing ahead of me, but I was going home. 

We pulled up to my house as my kids came running out the door and up the block, music blaring and greeted with big yard letters adorning the entire lawn:


With tears streaming down my face, my husband holding my walker to keep it steady, I was able to get out of the car and was surrounded by the procession of my children, my sisters and my parents – all present for this momentous occasion – made my way to the door. Oh to be home! My couch I felt like I was sitting on a cloud. The floors, the ceilings – I wanted to hug it all. Who cares if there were toys on the floor or piles that had to be sorted, I was home. It felt magical in every way. Thinking the walker was a new toy for them, my kids started taking rides and having races and I realized the walker had to go. This pushed me to walk on my own, albeit with holding onto the wall. Baby steps. But I was walking! Just one week before I couldn’t have  imagined it!

Once again, we had an abundance of food for shabbos, lovingly prepared by local shluchos, every detail included. The most tasty and full of love food you can imagine.

The week that followed was full of appointments; my husband managed all of it. I still didn’t have the clarity of mind to keep track of my calendar nor could I drive. We had been given a document to bring to the DMV to receive a handicap decal, something we thankfully never needed.

The wound VAC had to be changed three times a week, a process that was painful and unpleasant. And the portable VAC in a trendy bag that the nurses had promised – it turned out to be bulky and the bag not trendy. Its permanent home was hanging from my shoulder, I was tethered. The five pound weight; the long thin tubing and the pain of the wound site made it difficult to hold my baby for more than a few minutes at a time. And I hated it. 

Our home was busy; physical therapy, occupational therapy, a night nanny for the baby, cleaning help and thankfully, my parents too- a full staff to keep things running. 

After a few days, I walked outside. Three steps. Four steps. Slowly. I made progress. 

Meals filled with love and care continued to be arranged by friends and family. 10 weeks of dinner delivered. Friends and family continued to visit, taking my kids to the park and on trips.

And all I could do was be. There was no doing. There was only being. 

I got to see firsthand that what our children need from us most is just to be. I sat on the couch; my kids played, fought, roughhoused, ran in and out and in and out and hardly even sat near me, but they had what they needed. Mommy was there. Just being. 

Two weeks later I went back to the hospital with cards and gifts for the amazing medical staff who took part in my miracle. Standing in front of the ICU room I had occupied for 10 days, dressed up and walking on my own two feet, was an incredible moment. The joy of the hospital staff was palpable, they had seen what was and they saw me now. They saw the miracle.

A mere six weeks later, I was ready to start driving. Sitting behind the wheel never felt so good! The wound VAC as my steady sidekick was both uncomfortable and downright annoying. I knew I had to do something to help me from being so frustrated and I had an idea. My daughter designed a colorful and vibrant image that said “My Miracle Reminder” and I made a tote bag with the image.  It was no longer a wound VAC; it was my miracle reminder. Mind control and perspective shift is everything, and being forced to use these tools I experienced the unbelievable power we have access to at any time. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control what we do about it. While I still hated being tethered and it wasn’t any more comfortable, my mind was in a different place. 

The surgeon expected the wound to heal over four months; surprising everyone, the 10 cm wide  wound with 10cm deep tunneling was closed before the end of week 8. The wound VAC was picked up by the healthcare provider and I was free! I want to never forget what it felt like to be tethered so that I never lose sight of the joy of being able to sit stand run walk and get out of bed as I please, and not having to be plugged into the wall each night to recharge.

The hand of Hashem was clear at so many moments; starting with the hospital I delivered at; my other 7 children whom I had given birth to since moving on shlichus, were born in our small suburban hospital, just a two minute drive from our home. For this birth, due to insurance reasons, I had to switch providers and deliver at a big city hospital, close to 30 minutes from home. I complained about this for months; I did not want to have to go to a big inner city noisy hospital so far from home! Hashem puts us where we need to be; the small town hospital that I wanted to go to doesn’t have a trauma unit, or any of the lifesaving abilities that I needed that night.

One nurse commented to me that between them they realized that the night I gave birth, all the surgeons on call were the head of their respective units, a rare occurrence. “Someone is watching out for you!” they said.

When baby Mushka was 10 weeks old, 7 weeks after coming home, we were able to make the long anticipated Seudas Hodaah. Once again, my family flew in and my friends, local community and nearby shluchim came together to celebrate our miracle. I was able to share my miraculous recovery and finally say the bracha of Hagomel, an emotional moment for everyone.

As I got stronger, my husband and I were able to downsize our staff and get back to normal; I was so grateful for every new milestone; to be back in the kitchen; cooking and making challah again and being able to take care of my baby. Bathing Mushka, feeding and changing her, rocking her to sleep and all the normal things that I did for all my babies, only this time more aware of each moment. Instacart, Amazon, Target and all my other favorite apps were back in business as I was back on my game. 

We celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah on Yud Gimmel Elul; an event I planned from A-Z as I did with my older sons. The only difference was that with each to do list and stress, there was an overwhelming amount of joy and appreciation that I was able to do what I was doing. I remember sitting in the hospital, unable to get out of bed and wondering what would be with my son’s Bar Mitzvah in 5 months time; I could have never imagined I would be where I was.

On Chof Gimmel Elul, just 5 months from when everything began and one week before Rosh Hashanah, I flew into New York to go to the Ohel, a trip I had been dreaming about for months. Sitting at the gate waiting to board, notepad and pen in hand as I made menus and schedules for Tishrei; planned the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur lessons for Hebrew School, emailed parents to remind them about the first day of school  starting the next week and sending emails to women to come to Torah and Tea; I paused and took it all in. I looked around the area filled with passengers waiting; nothing about me stood out, there was no way to know that I had been through something so big. I closed my eyes and took it all in. The smells, the feel, my hand on my pen, my mind making plans, sitting comfortably with no attachments, doing everything I needed to do. I was back to normal, albeit with a gratefulness much deeper than I could ever attain without going through what I did. True, I had an overwhelming to do list for the next few weeks, and I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of being overwhelmed for regular things.

I landed at 8 am and took an Uber straight to the Ohel. Standing there that morning, feeling the early morning breeze on my face, I held my thick pile of papers of my pan. One by one, I read through each page and then slowly tore them and let them flutter to the ground. I breathed in the moment. I had reached my goal, this long awaited milestone. Thank you Rebbe for bringing me to this moment. Thank you Rebbe for carrying me and my family through. We are never alone, Ashrienu mah tov chelkeinu.

To my extended family of yidden around the world; to my parents, siblings, friends, relatives, local community and amazing fellow NorCal shluchos and to the global shluchim family and complete strangers; I want to say to each one of you who davenned for me, thank you for helping bring about this miracle.

1 thought on “Trauma ICU, Matzah and Miracles; The Full Story”

  1. Wow Goldie!!! Even though you shared what happened with me, I appreciate so much all the details of how you came about & returned to your life. I loved how you incorporated Rabbi Yossi into the piece with him speaking also what happened. I have never known a person of such strength as you. I was so happy to participate as best I could, from so far away, in praying for your recovery. Hashem came to save you & I am so grateful. Your family, friends & the world need Goldie Grossbaum!!!

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