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A Yom Kippur Question

A Yom Kippur Question

I was floored. There wasn't one doctor in the whole hospital willing to help us.


The call had seemed simple enough.

“Mrs. Wolff?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“It’s your daughter’s counselor from camp. Everything’s really all right, it’s just that she hurt her pinky during a ball game.”

“Oh, her pinky?” I replied. “That doesn’t sound too terrible.”

“Well, we’ll be back in the city late tonight and maybe you’d like your doctor to look at it tomorrow.”

I spoke to my daughter and reassured her that it’ll all be okay and taken care of in the morning.

We had a 10 a.m. appointment with a local orthopedist who examined her pinky. He held the x-ray up to the light and then looked at her pinky again. “This pinky is both fractured and displaced,” he said with concern. “If I’m going to push it back into place here, your daughter’s going to be in incredible pain.”

My daughter’s eyes opened wide.

“I would suggest that you go immediately to the hospital. I’ll call ahead to the emergency room. You need strong pain killers and only an anesthesiologist can help you with that. This needs to be done ASAP.”

My heart began to pound. No one enjoys going to the hospital. Besides, it was Friday morning and I had not finished my Shabbos preparations thinking that this would be a quick office visit.

After registering in the E.R., we were given a room. Residents came in and looked at the x-rays while asking a lot of questions. The clock was ticking but no doctor came in to set my child’s finger back into place.

I heard a loud discussion outside the room.

“Are you kidding? Did anyone ask the mother what they’re doing here? There’s no way I’m doing this. Let’s say they decide to sue me ten years from now. They belong in an orthopedist’s office. Send the kid to an orthopedist. Send them home.”

Was this commotion about us? Was this doctor on call serious? Send ‘the kid’ to an orthopedist? Isn’t this why we came from the orthopedist -- to get help in the hospital?

The E.R. doctor walked in.

"Can you tell me what you’re doing here?” he asked briskly.

I told him the whole story, how my daughter both fractured and dislocated her finger.

“No. Not the story. Why are you here? Why didn’t your orthopedist take care of this?”

I explained to him about the pain medication that my daughter would need in order to have the procedure done.

When did he go from caring doctor to insensitive human being acting with callous indifference?

He looked at us with annoyance and walked out of the room. The loud discussion continued at the nurses’ station. A resident approached me and said that an appointment was made for me to see an orthopedist Monday morning.

I was floored. “Isn't there one doctor in this whole hospital who can help us? We cannot wait till Monday, that’s why we’re here! Please help us.”

Finally, late in the afternoon a doctor was located who was able to help us. The procedure was very painful, involving many shots and forcibly pushing the fractured finger back into place.

As we drove home, I watched my daughter fall into a much needed sleep. I was left with a feeling of gratitude to God for allowing us to go home peacefully just in time for Shabbos. But a deep disappointment was also gnawing within me.

Here was a doctor who at one time must have wanted to help humankind as his calling in life. He took an oath that this would be his noble mission. There must have been a point that he had been filled with idealism, empathy, even a passion for his profession.

What happened? When did he lose his way? When did he go from caring doctor to insensitive human being acting with callous indifference?

I realized that this must be a question for us all as we approach Yom Kippur and reflect upon our lives.

Husbands and wives, did we not stand under the chuppah canopy filled with love and a desire to build a home that would endure through our endless dedication to each other?

Did we not give of ourselves because we wanted to give instead of asking what have you done for me lately?

Fathers and mothers, can we recall the very first time we held our child in our arms? Weren’t we overcome with wonder at the miracle of life? Weren’t we filled with an overwhelming desire to protect, to nurture, to guide and to love this little soul?

When did we replace passion and joy with indifference?

How did we get here? How did we lose our way?

And what about the way we are living our lives as Jews?

When did we replace passion and joy with indifference?

Remember the very first time you ever kindled the light of Shabbos, prayed from a siddur with your heart, or studied Torah and felt your soul dance?

Do you recall the excitement, the idealism, the sense of purpose and mission?

When we first set out to journey in our professions, our family life, or on our spiritual travels we lived with noble vision. We were committed.

There is a beautiful private prayer that is said on the eve of Yom Kippur:

Master of all worlds, Father of mercy and forgiveness…You created in me a mind and heart to conceive good thoughts and noble aspirations…You created me with eyes and the faculty of vision which should be sanctified by the sight of holiness…ears to hear words of Torah…a mouth with the ability to articulate goodness…but I have spoken gossip, lies, shamed people...

It is known before You, there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that always does good so in Your mercy You gave us one great and holy day to provide atonement for all our iniquities and purify us from all our errors…”

As we approach the holiest day of the Jewish year, let us reflect upon who we have become.

The answer must come from deep within the crevices of our hearts. If we can remember our original dreams and promises, we can contemplate who we want to strive to be.

And if we have gone off course, today is the day to begin the journey back home.

September 12, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) moshe broner, September 26, 2010 1:37 AM

Had the Same Experience

Years ago my daughter was experiencing a troubling pain in her abdomen. We took her to a pediatric clinic for a major children's hospital. They performed tests and said that she needed to be seen quickly at the hospital's ED. They faxed over their results & conclusions, & recommended immediate surgery. At arrival at the ED, we were informed that her condition did not appear serious and we'd have to wait. When she was seen, they acknowledged receipt of the material, but even though it was from one of their dr's, they said they could not accept it, but had to repeat all of the tests. They finally concluded, hours later, that the first dr. had been correct and sent her to surgery. I was livid. I sent a very lengthy letter to the medical director suggesting that the disjunction between the clinic & ED was unacceptable, & could have affecred my daughter's life. I suggested that it was a law suit waiting to happen, and if his drs. were afraid of malpractice, this behavior would most certainly trigger such a lawsuit. Drs. unfortunately overestimate the frequency of these suits, but fearful inaction can result in more suits than caring for patients.

(12) Laurie, September 17, 2010 5:31 AM

As a nurse in a large teaching hospital, I feel anger rading about your daughter's experience in the hospital

I am a nurse in a large teaching hospital. When I read what the resident said to you, I became furious. That behavior is uncalled for and would not be tolerated where I work. For that doctor's future and the care of his future patient's, his poor behavior should be reported to the hospital. I cannot believe they would sanction his attitude or behavior toward you or your daughter. They wouldn't where I work.

(11) Anonymous, September 16, 2010 2:16 PM

a different view

I commented earlier but I discussed this with my physician husband and he offered a different view. Perhaps the doctors were fearful of treating a child's hand without a pediatric specialist. Why? Malpractice suits.With a child, the statute of limitations extends to 21 years of age. Many doctors are reluctant to treat children's hands and faces without a specialist. They may have wanted to help you, but were fearful of putting their career on the line. Doctors may have lost their way, but the various forces affecting medicine in recent years have enabled this.

(10) Joey, September 14, 2010 5:20 AM

Excellent and thought-provoking insights. Thank you and may God bless!

(9) Alan S., September 13, 2010 10:32 PM


Your story is more a sad commentary on the classic case of 'mis-communication' than on the (poor) state of health care today. As a doctor, I acknowledge that you were not spoken to properly by the ER doctor. My main question and comment is, did your orthopedist in fact call ahead to alert the ER doctors that you were coming and the reason why you were coming? Someone, somewhere dropped the ball. If I see a patient that I cannot handle in the office, I will send them on to the ER with a note or I will call the ER and speak with the staff so that they know exactly why the patient is presenting, and what I want or suggest. Either your orthopedist did not call ahead (regardless of what he said), or he did not connect with the right person in the ER, or the ER staff was not properly notified by their internal contact. Again, someone, somewhere dropped the ball here, and you and your daughter were the ones who suffered. Also again, no one can 'defend' the ER doctor's lack of bedside manner. But he was not informed, obviously, of why you needed to be seen in the ER. Although sloppy, his question made some sense. You should follow up by first calling the orthopedist's office and find out if in fact he called the ER. Let him know what your lousy experience was so that this situation could be prevented for some other person.

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