The Gift of Non Social Distancing – Amy Salinger

A look back at Ari’s surgery before COVID 19

Background noises, playing in my house on that grey cool afternoon in March, include CNN’s coverage of the COVID-19 and sounds of barbell weights being lifted by my college age son Ari.   I also heard the sounds of my own teeth crunching slivered almonds that were intended to be saved for Passover; but I felt anxious, given the uncertainties around COVID-19 and the “Passover” almonds provided some relief. As I worked from home, I glanced  from the computer  screen towards the kitchen bay window, looking at the dull sky , wondering what the rest of the day brings and what about tomorrow?   Many felt worried and anxious about COVID19. It was not every day that all were vulnerable to an invisible virus, highly contagious and even deadly. I haven’t felt this worried since last fall when Ari underwent neurosurgery.

It all began on a Friday night last November. My brother, his wife, and two teenage daughters were visiting from New Jersey for the weekend.  After enjoying a simple Shabbat dinner, the six of us dispersed in my house.  My brother and his wife were in one bedroom, chatting with the door open. My nieces were on their smartphones in another bedroom, also with the door open. My husband was relaxing on the couch in our family room, while I searched for dental floss in my bathroom closet when my phone rang. It was 10:30pm. Ari’s friend Abi screamed and cried into my ear that Ari was in an ambulance, on his way to the local hospital in Ithaca, NY, due to having a series of seizures. “WHAT?” I yelled in panic into the phone to Abi.  I ran downstairs, yelling: “JAY, JAY, Ari is having seizures!!!”  He woke up, looking like a deer with a car’s headlights shining in its eyes. My brother, sister-in-law, and my nieces suddenly looked up confused and speechless, as I ran down the stairs screaming to wake Jay.

What followed in the days and weeks ahead was a medical crisis that turbulently pushed aside our daily routines, forcing a new frontier that our family had never before had encountered-similar to the pandemic that the world is currently facing.  Suddenly, my husband and I were driving into Boston, parking the car in the dark hospital parking garage for patients, staff, and visitors. Our phones were buzzing with messages and calls inquiring about Ari.  Names of doctors and nurses were added to our list of contacts. What began with six seizures frightfully that November Friday night resulted in a step by step formula for a construct that we were not prepared:  Seizures led to imaging which led to a rushed appointment with one of Boston’s top neurosurgeons.

That morning of our first visit to Dr. Alterman’s office, a temple friend, who is also a registered nurse, met us there to support us and help navigate the medical jargon that suddenly was thrust upon our weary selves. Our nurse friend was also the mother of a close friend of Ari’s.  She has known Ari for all his 21 years, feeding Ari chicken soup on Shabbat afternoon at her house and delivering a heartwarming speech to him on the bimah at his Bar Mitzvah.  Now we needed her more than ever to give us support and care in the hours leading to surgery.

Our nurse friend and close-knit temple community can be incredibly supportive during a rough patch which definitely followed upon our return home from the doctor’s office.  Fellow temple congregants visited Ari and our family in our home morning and night during those three days before surgery, engaging him with laughter and giving us hugs. Mind you, no hugs today; we are social distancing due to COVID 19.  During the eight-hour surgery on a day that resembled the weather of today, we had a loving community of friends, huddled around us the entire time in the hospital waiting room saved for families of patients undergoing surgery.    Mind you, no visitors allowed in hospitals today; we are social distancing, due to COVID19.  In the days that Ari recovered in the hospital, several temple members visited him, showering him with care and warmth. Once again, no family members are allowed to be with their loved ones who are patients in hospitals today, since COVID19 is highly contagious.   Fellow congregants prayed closely together a mishaberech on behalf of Ari during morning Shabbat services in the weeks following his surgery.  Mind you, Shabbat services pivoted to online, due to COVID19.

Six days following neurosurgery, Ari was discharged by his medical team. Upon minutes returning home following what was an unsettling week in the hospital,   our Rabbi rang the doorbell. While Ari was not up to interacting with guests checking on him, my husband and I sat with our Rabbi briefly, updating him on Ari’s condition and expressing our gratitude towards our temple’s love and support during this uncertain time.   If Ari had needed emergency surgery during a pandemic, our Rabbi would not have been able to visit us in our home let alone all the many other visitors who came over to hold Ari’s hands, kiss him on the cheek, and sit  closely  near  him around the kitchen table.

Finally, six weeks after the surgery, we received the pathology report that t Ari had a benign tumor with abnormal cells – a kin to osteosarcoma.  The most recent MRI was clean and Ari was told to come back for his next scan in six months.

Before, during, and after Ari’s neurosurgery, our family was saturated with care and comfort all in physical reach, for which we always will be deeply grateful. .  With the world experiencing a pandemic, we are  do our best  to take care of  each other and ourselves, showing random acts of kindness  to family,  friends, and strangers but largely through virtual platforms or social distancing.

If Ari had suffered seizures today, he still would have received excellent care from the medical teams both in Ithaca and Boston.  However, there would have been a drastic reduction of visitors allowed to see him in the hospital, never mind the constant flow of friends and family coming by our home to check on him. The constant stream of community visiting Ari played a positive role in helping him to heal emotionally from a medical crisis that will forever be a part of his life.

I glanced out the window and saw my street lined with houses but devoid of the usual after-school traffic that would normally be happening at this moment in time, if we were not forced to be home, reducing the spread of the virus.  Instead  of  watching CNN  which  was showing the  frustrations and concerns  of our nation’s leaders discussing  COVID 19 ,  I concentrated on sounds coming from the basement, where Ari  lifted the barbells  that helped him to get back to the awesome physique he had before last November.  Suddenly, the sound of Ari’s Nike sneaker footsteps darted upstairs and made a direct turn towards the kitchen.  Looking for something to quench his thirst, he reached in the refrigerator for the guava juice I bought for Passover.  “Is it okay if I have this juice?” he asked me.   “Go ahead,” I said, as I reach for some more almonds.



2 thoughts on “The Gift of Non Social Distancing – Amy Salinger

  1. roniken

    Great article Amy! I assume your article about Ari’s illness and hospitalization was very helpful to help you get through this scare…..I am so happy that all is going well now. I hope we can get together one of these days when we don’t have restrictions. Take care Debby Iken


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