No atheists in the emergency room

No atheists in the emergency room

There are falls, and there are falls, and then there are more falls.

Snow falls, sometimes gently draping our landscape with a white patina, covering any imperfections, and at other times crashing to the ground violently and viciously, creating a slippery slope and an impediment to our walking and driving.

Water falls, in places like my old Jewish haunt in Parksville, New York, an ancient swimming hole known as the Falls, as if it alone was the only falls on Earth, is possibly millions of years old, with pure frigid water rapidly racing over pebbles and rocks in the endless flow of time, recently subjected to a massive diminution in size and velocity due to an earthshattering avalanche of enormous boulders. 

And Niagara Falls falls, as does the immense Iguazu, in South America, which we have been privileged to witness. Iguazu roars. Niagara is a mere drip in comparison. 

Things fall. They fall from tables and other places where they probably should not have been in the first place.

And, of course, we fall in love! That is the most beautiful fall of all. 

We can conclude that when something falls, it is occasionally good news, like the rain after a drought, or the bargains during a Fall sale. Most of the time, however, fall is a word signifying some trouble or problem. When we describe a fall we usually are not describing a romance.

Like — when a human falls! That is almost always bad news. 

A fall is always surprising news. Although it happens very often, it is almost always unexpected. Unanticipated. It is often time for a misheberach, a prayer for healing. You might be reciting the bracha for someone else, and, quick as a slip, you might become the recipient, needing the prayer for yourself. That’s how life is, and that’s how falls are. Sudden. Abrupt. Terrifying. 

You may take your vitamins, exercise reliably, watch your cholesterol, and have your annual checkup with your physician. Yes, you may — and you still may fall and cause yourself grievous injury. 

I am going to tell you about what I’ve seen and felt but not how to avoid the falls. I’m just not that smart! I only know that the remembrance of falling is indescribable and that a life can change in that quick and short sensation, which you will never forget.

We arrived in Jerusalem in winter, on a stormy night, about two years ago. A taxi dropped us off in front of our family’s building, leaving a short walk to the front door. The wind was brutal, like I imagined a tornado might be in the middle of Oz. I gripped my little wheeled suitcase while my husband held tightly onto his, and our grandson Joshua helped with the rest of our gear. Suddenly I was blown and flown to the ground, and although it was the holy land and the holy sidewalk, I could not arise to praise my lucky stars. Those stars were elsewhere that night, not even brightening the sky enough for me to find my glasses, which had disappeared. The two men, fiercely struggling to stay upright themselves, managed somehow to get me into the lobby, and then to the elevator. 

Once I entered the apartment it was apparent that I needed more help. This was no innocent fall. The pain was unrelenting.

They eventually got me to Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, which was packed with others awaiting triage. Misery was rampant. Finally, many hours later, I was X-rayed and diagnosed with a fracture of the pelvis. My doctors, both named Muhammed, insisted that I must spend the night at the hospital. Our Joshua would not leave me alone, so he slept (if you could call it that) on three metal folding chairs pushed together. 

That night was a bad dream. A wonderfully anticipated journey, which had started with the usual excitement and joy of travel to Israel, ended with a painful night in the ER, on a bed with no blanket and no pillow, in a room filled with my fellow countrymen, Jews, Arabs, Christians, and others, male and female, all in distress, and reciting the prayers of their own people and their own faiths. It was a tower of Babel. It was a shrine, even for the most secular. 

We know there are no atheists in the emergency room.

I spent the remainder of that month in Israel in a wheelchair. It wasn’t the best kind of fall — but also it wasn’t the worst. I recovered. 

Others in my family were not so fortunate.

This week is the 24th yahrzeit of my mother, Ite Rive bat Peshka. Mom had a deep fear of falling because of what happened to her father, the man I knew and adored as Pop, my grandfather. And then irony came her way.

Pop lived with us on Aldine Street; he moved to Newark after his adored wife Peshka died, at age 62. Pop never learned to drive but he was fine taking public transportation, which he did reliably every week when he went from Newark to Queens to visit his son Charlie, a dentist, and Charlie’s family. 

One day the trip didn’t end well. Pop, a thin but strong man, was pushed to the ground in the subway station. Somehow he pulled himself up and continued on his journey, but his unrelenting pain convinced Charlie that his father needed to be seen by an orthopedist, who diagnosed a broken hip and recommended immediate surgery.

Pop was operated on at Newark Beth Israel. He survived for a short time and died suddenly in May of 1960, a few short months after the fall. 

Mom remembered and learned from the event and usually walked very responsibly and carefully. One day in downtown Herzliya, where she and Dad lived, she was jaywalking as she crossed the main street, Rehov Sokolov. Jaywalking was a common practice on that stretch of roadway. The lights were far apart and while the destination was most likely directly across the street, very close by, a long hot walk in the summer or a chilly wintry walk were common excuses to jaywalk. Mom had done it countless times, with no problem. She cautiously always looked left and then right before taking a single step. But how was she to know that the grocery delivery boy would be riding his motorized bicycle in the wrong direction? 

He collided with her and she was diagnosed with a broken hip, the very condition that had taken down her father years earlier.

Mom was operated on but she was never the same following the surgery. She died within the year.

My own story with falls continued with a fractured shoulder. I was walking home from shul on a snowy Shabbat, being mindful of the icy sidewalk. I clearly remember walking safely into the door and breathing a loud sigh of relief. Made it! That’s when I plummeted to the ground and put my full weight on my left shoulder. I declined surgery and ultimately recovered. End of that story.

This very week my friend, another woman of a certain age, flopped on her stairs at home, ending in sprains of the ribs, and luckily nothing more. Another friend wound up with surgery after he fell and fractured a vertebra in his neck. And my sister-in-law is in rehab after fracturing her ankle. It never stops. 

You’ve got bones. Start worrying!

I tell you all these stories, especially if you are, ahem, a bit old, to warn you to be careful. That, of course, may not be enough — but what else can you do?

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Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three.    She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.  She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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