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Yom Kippur in the ER

October 7, 2018 | by Jody Berkel

God puts us exactly where we need to be.

It was 5:30 pm Erev Yom Kippur, my husband and I were in the emergency room after 10 hours of blood tests, ultrasounds, IV and antibiotics. The ER doctor walked past us and said, “We finally found out what’s going on – you need your appendix out. The surgeon will be down shortly to speak to you.”

I called him back and I said in shock, “I need my appendix out?!”

“Yes, unless you want it to rupture and cause a much bigger problem for yourself. The surgeon will be down to see you shortly.” And just like that, he was gone.

We sat there stunned, confused and frightened. “I’m going to have surgery on Yom Kippur?” I said to my husband, tears rolling down my face. “I don't have any abdominal pain, how can it be my appendix?” Thoughts flooded my mind: who will stay with me, who will be with our three children at home?

After calls to Bikkur Cholim and our parents, we decided that my husband would go home and with the help of my mother-in-law stay with our children while my mother would come and stay with me at the hospital. As candle lightening time approached, my husband rushed home, both of us not knowing if I will have surgery or not.

Two doctors came to see me, asking me a myriad of questions and feeling my belly, pushing down hard where my appendix is. “Does this hurt?” “No.”

They pushed down in another area. “Does this hurt?’. “No”. The surgeons weren’t convinced that it was my appendix and recommended a CT scan to know for sure.

So there I was in the ER on Yom Kippur. I saw a familiar face, a nurse who was there as long as I was, and asked her, “Do you by any chance have any prayer books?”

“Anything in particular?”

“A Jewish one?”

Looking back this was undoubtedly my holiest Yom Kippur to date.

A few minutes later she returned with an Artscroll Siddur. I quickly looked through the table of contents and to my amazement I found the Al Cheit prayer and sitting in the ER, I began striking my chest, asking God to please let me not have surgery.


After two days in the ER, blood tests, IV, ultrasounds, antibiotics and a CT scan that was canceled and then re-scheduled, it turned out, thank God, that I did not need to have my appendix removed. (After being bed-ridden with a fever for five days prior to going to the hospital, I had a nasty intestinal/gastro-bug.) Looking back this was undoubtedly my holiest Yom Kippur to date. Not only did I feel God protecting me in the ER, I discovered that the ER provided countless opportunities to emulate God, the primary way to draw close to Him.

During my many walks up and down the ER halls, thanks to a walking IV, bed-ridden patients would see me and ask me to get them a blanket or some water. Another patient was brought in and placed beside me, a 91-year-old, woman accompanied in the ambulance by her granddaughter. I sat and listened as the doctor came to her and subtly tried to encourage the granddaughter to sign a “do not resuscitate” should her grandmother go into cardiac arrest. I asked the granddaughter if she understood what the doctor was asking, and she answered, “No, not really.”

After chatting for a while, she told me that her family is refugees from Kosovo and the many struggles she had to deal with. She explained that she cannot stay with her grandmother and must go home to her four kids. “Do you have anyone to call who can help you with your kids?” I asked her.

“No, everyone is busy with their own lives.”

My heart broke as I watched an impossible situation unfold in front of my eyes. This granddaughter had no choice but to leave her 91 year old, blind grandmother who didn’t speak a word of English alone in the Emergency room. Before she left, she asked me if it was possible for me to watch over her grandmother, perhaps bring her some water if she needed, and make sure the nurse is checking in on her.

“I’ll do what I can to help,” I replied. I watched the grandmother struggle to open a package of crackers, waiting to see if she could manage. A minute later I gently opened the crackers for her and then placed her hand on the cup of water at the side of her bed. I made sure she was covered with the blanket. And when the nurse finally came by, I explained that she needs insulin.


A few hours later, another woman standing by her elderly husband in the bed to my right approached me. “Excuse me, I have to leave for about half an hour. Would you please watch over my husband?”

My mouth agape, I answered, half laughing, half in disbelief, “Ask the nurse, I already have one patient!” I silently plead to God to send a Refuah Sheleima to all these people!

Before I was moved into my room, I asked my husband, who was now with me after Yom Kippur, for a piece of paper and a pen. I wrote a note for the granddaughter, telling her that I did what I could to help and that her grandmother was taken care of by the nurses. I blessed them both with good health and placed it in the grandmother’s bag.

A few things became clear to me during my ER experience. I realized the value of having a community and people to count on. I am so grateful to be part of such an incredible Jewish community who stepped up to help my family while I was in the hospital. When we’re experiencing times of challenge, we all need family, friends and a relationship with God to help carry us through. Although I would rather have not spent Yom Kippur in the ER, God puts us where we need to be. And being there made me acutely aware of a teaching I’ve shared many times: we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. I really tried to live these words.

The emergency room is the great equalizer where on the one hand we all feel so helpless, and on the other we can experience the power of helping one another.

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