When Your Husband Becomes Ill

January 12, 2017

8 min read


Suddenly I woke up on a different planet.

When a loved one becomes ill, it’s like landing on a new planet.

They tell you to pack your bags but you are not sure what to take along. A book of Psalms and a package of tissues are a good place to start. Important medical papers are a must and a compact toothbrush may come in handy.

And then there’s the shopping list, a little unusual. Never mind the weight; you’re travelling to a different planet now.

When we first received the diagnosis, it didn’t really register. ALS is hard to describe and doctors hesitate to paint the whole picture. Perhaps this is for the best. The disease progresses differently in each patient. We immediately registered at the Neurological Clinic in Hadassah Medical Center where a special unit for ALS had been created. The staff, headed by Dr. Marc Gotkine, was patient and caring.

Hope is stronger than fear.

Attached to this unit was Anat, a wonderful social worker from ISRALS, the Israeli organization dedicated to helping ALS patients and their families. She gently prepared us for the future, giving us clear guidelines on how to proceed. Their motto is “hope is stronger than fear”.

Still, there was no way to be completely ready and the unexpected became the norm. Daily functions which we had always taken for granted now became a challenge. I say we, but I was the bystander, painfully watching as my husband, Rabbi Dovid Frid, bravely struggled to remain independent. Never complaining, he accepted his lot even though he knew what was coming. I never heard him question as to why this happened and when people came to visit, he always had a smile. And thus he remains, until this very day.

My husband’s greatest love in life is learning and teaching Torah. He taught in our home – practical Jewish law and insights on the weekly Torah reading to women and the laws of Kashruth to a group of young men who were preparing for the Rabbinate. It hurt when he had to stop.

Then three years ago, Dovid’s struggle with ALS took a turn for the worse. Almost without warning, his breathing capacity decreased to the point where he needed an emergency tracheotomy. After a month’s stay in Hadassah Hospital we came home to a new reality. Almost completely paralyzed and permanently connected to both breathing and oxygen machines,

Dovid needed 24-hour surveillance and help in all areas of daily functioning.

In the beginning, we continued with one caregiver and my older children and I took on the night shift. But staying awake all night and then going straight to work or school in the morning proved to be debilitating. On the verge of collapse, we hired additional help, not covered by government insurance. In fact, insurance covers less than half of the cost. When we found ourselves sinking into debt, we had no choice but to set up a fundraising campaign. These funds, donated by caring people from around the world, enable us to provide our beloved husband/father with the best of care at home, surrounded by his loving family.

But I am drifting. I started off describing life on a new planet and our strange shopping list. Not exactly like the one for the supermarket. This one included a ramp from the street to our apartment, the latest features of electric wheelchairs, nursing tables, oxygen machines, hi-low office chairs, the Yad Sarah catalogue alongside websites of technicians who could design all kinds of gadgets, anything to give Dovid more quality of life and some measure of happiness.

The “to do” and “to learn” lists were just as long. I had to learn the ins and outs of myriad government agencies, the Ministry of Health, the National Insurance Institute, the Immigration Office. I had to learn how to administer medicines, operate machines and give injections and believe me, the one thing I never wanted to be was a nurse.

I possess a secret weapon sent straight to me from Heaven: caring people.

I am no superwoman but I do possess a secret weapon sent straight to me from Heaven, and that is PEOPLE: family, friends and even complete strangers. Without them, I would have sunk a long time ago.

All my children, led by the sterling example of our oldest, stood solidly by our side from the outset, changing work schedules, leaving their own families for days and nights, dealing with bureaucracy and doing anything else that was required. Our extended families have helped in so many ways, even from across the ocean. One distinguished and very busy Rosh Yeshiva (head of a Torah institution) never misses a Friday visit to bring joy to my husband, even when he has just stepped off the plane. Old friends from all over the world came to our rescue, giving of their time and money just when it seemed that we would have to give up.

The wonderful community we live in came forth with endless offers of assistance. Accepting help is not easy and very humbling. My neighbors, however, insisted that I was doing them a favor, and at times they almost had me convinced!

My close friend brought me rice and potatoes from my neighbors up the hill for over a year. When things became a little calmer, I felt it was time to stop. A month or so afterwards, she met me in the store. “The week I stopped bringing you food,” she told me, “our 20-year-old car finally died. We really need a new car, so can you please let me start bringing you rice and potatoes again?”

As my son’s Bar Mitzvah approached, I did not know how I was going to handle it. In the end I didn’t have to. The entire Bar Mitzvah was executed by loving friends. “No problem, it was so much fun!” (Staying up half the night to set up the buffet and getting up at 6 AM to lay out the Kiddush, done gorgeously in silver and blue.)

And of course, our beloved Bikur Cholim head, who has an antenna hidden somewhere in my house so she can pick up exactly what I need. She never takes no for an answer. It’s impossible to mention everyone. Your acts and words of kindness are stored forever in my heart.

And then there are the strangers. I was floored to discover that most people are intrinsically good! It is not possible that I just happened to meet all of the nice people in the world, because almost everyone I met was nice.

Kindness is a mindset. You don’t have to be rich or powerful, you just have to train yourself to think about others.

Total strangers from all over the world opened their hearts and pocketbooks. An untold number of top doctors and professionals do not mind when I pester them even during their vacations. We have also been blessed with dedicated caregivers who always show patience and truly care. Even taxi drivers took my number to find out helpful information and have actually called me back!

Kindness is a mindset. You don’t have to be rich or powerful, you just have to train yourself to think about others. Sometimes a small deed, one kind word or a smile can save a person.

I will never forget the words of the young Arab nurse who was assigned to our case when Dovid had to be hospitalized. She had recently finished nursing school and this was her first time on the ward. She made some error and I admit that I was not very nice about it. Later, I apologized, explaining that I was dealing day and night with a life-threatening situation and was a bit stressed out. She could have reacted coldly, but instead she said words that warmed my heart. “I admire your dedication. I believe it is your religious beliefs and your faith in God that give you the strength to deal with this.” Those words gave me strength to go on.

There are no politics in the hospital, no disputes over land, no ideological differences, just good people who want to help. It gives you something to think about. If all the wicked and selfish people would just leave us alone, we could live in peace.

I eventually discovered that this new planet I landed on isn’t a different planet after all. It’s just the side that the newspapers fail to write about. It’s the beautiful side full of wonderful, caring people.

May we all be blessed with good health, happiness and success and continue to see the good in this world.

Please pray for the speedy recovery of Dovid Yehoshua Ben Leba Malka and all ALS patients.

If you would like to help the Frid family to continue providing their beloved husband/father with the care he needs, please visit: www.causematch.com/loveyourneighbor

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