The Thing

"The man had ceased to be a human in their eyes. He had become a liability. A possible lawsuit"


As I entered Hershel’s hospital room, his grandson Laibel was there.

“Shalom aleichem, Hershel,” I said.

“Aleichem shalom, rabbi!” Hershel answered.

The nurse asked Hershel, “Would you like some water?”

Laibel quickly answered, “No, thanks. He’s fine.”

Something in me began to boil. It took great inner strength to hold myself from exploding as I gently asked Laibel if he could walk me to the waiting room.

“Rabbi, is everything all right?”

“Not really,” I answered.

“Is it about my grandfather?”

I nodded that it was.

“Rabbi, please don’t hold back. Tell me what you know, I can take it.”

“I want to tell you a story I witnessed firsthand,” I told Laibel. “During one of the coronavirus waves, an older man began falling in his home. His daughter took him to the emergency room. However, only the elderly father was allowed to enter.

“He was led to a stretcher in the hallway, as all the cubicles were full. When they attempted to lower the gurney to allow access from the wheelchair to the bed, the mechanism jammed. The only way to transfer the older man was for him to get out of the wheelchair and take one step to the stretcher.

“The aged patient felt for the nurses and sensed their frustration.

“ ‘I think I can take one step,’ he told them in a whisper.

“The nurses were hesitant. ‘You’re in danger of falling. Let’s wait.’ But after what seemed like an eternity, the older man said again, ‘I think I can take the one step.’

“The nurses relented.

“One nurse held the wheelchair, and the other held the gurney. The older man stood up and took one step forward. That one step was one step too many, however, and he crumbled to the floor in a loud heap.

“The older man was now sitting collapsed on the floor.

“He was bleeding from his hand and elbow.

“He was dizzy, bewildered, and alone.

“The nurses yelled, ‘We told you not to walk! We warned you!’

“They then began to talk among themselves as if the old man did not exist. ‘Look at him. He busted his arm. Look, he’s bleeding. We told him not to walk!’

“The older man had somehow disappeared. He was no longer present or, better said, his presence no longer mattered.

“The man had ceased to be a human in their eyes. He had become a liability. A possible lawsuit. He had become a burden that had to be dealt with quickly and without too much fanfare.

“He was picked up and heaved upon the gurney and left in the corridor.

“A few minutes later, a doctor arrived to examine the old man. The doctor manipulated the man’s hand and elbow and proudly pronounced, ‘Nah, it’s not broken. He just needs to be bandaged up. We’ll take him for an MRI later tonight.’

“The doctor never even made eye contact with our elderly friend. He never said a word to him.

“The old man just lay there in the middle of the corridor. He felt alone, and frightened, but most of all, he felt humiliated.

“The medical staff spoke about him in his presence as if he were a broken object, as if he were a defective item that had to be disposed of. As he lay there, they spoke about him as if he were not even present.

“Our aged friend felt thoroughly humiliated and disgraced. He realized that the most basic respect for his humanity no longer existed. He felt ravaged and violated. His feelings and thoughts no longer mattered.

“He began to cry.”

I looked at Hershel’s grandson.

“Laibel, that old man was me,” I told him. “Perhaps the next time the nurse comes in and asks your grandfather a question, allow him to answer for himself?”  —

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 857)

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