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“No,” I snapped. “I don’t want to play cards.”
“Just one game of gin rummy,” Ron* coaxed.
I shook my head. I wanted nothing to do with Ron or his wife or his daughter or anyone else in the room besides, of course, my son. He, my son, had been in that six-bed hospital ward already for nine days, not counting Shabbat out for good behavior. It had been nine days since the blood test had shown his infection rate was sky high, more than nine days that he‘d complained about being in pain whenever he walked. Nine days of him only leaving his hospital bed in a wheelchair. Nine days of doctors shaking their heads and suggesting more and more tests.
When I was calm I knew I should be thankful for all my blessings. My son was already twelve-years-old and didn’t need someone at his side 24/7 as Ron’s toddler did. My husband and I could both sleep at home in our own beds and it wasn’t the end of the world if there was an hour or two gap when we left our son alone as we spelled each other. Our good neighbors at home were arranging care for our younger children, sending in food for us, and providing rides to the hospital for me.
Those rides were well over an hour long, though. I was tired of other people’s food. I worried my other children were being bounced around too much. I missed talking to my husband without being exhausted. And on the day that Ron wanted me to play cards I was angry and scared.
I was angry because it seemed as if the doctors treated our son as if he was a new specimen for their research. That morning after they made their rounds I stepped into the hall to listen to them discuss MY son. I was ordered to leave. I refused. They were adamant I should not be there. I was just as adamant that I had every right to hear what they were going to say about MY son. We had a stalemate for about five minutes. I lost. I returned to my son’s bedside sheepish and resentful.
Immediately following the meeting, the head doctor came to talk to me. Apparently my stand in the hall had not been a total failure since, for the first time, she patiently explained in layman’s terms everything the doctors had discussed. Then she dropped her bombshell. Tomorrow they’d do a bone marrow scan.
Although I didn’t have a wealth of medical knowledge I knew that was a test for leukemia.
“We really don’t suspect the disease,” the doctor told me. “But we want to rule it out.”
I nodded numbly, finished the discussion, and practically ran to a pay phone so I could cry to my husband. (This eons before cell phones made their appearance.) There was a special spot I’d found tucked away in some corner where there was never any waiting to use the phone. Unfortunately, though, just as I’d begun my difficult conversation, one of the cleaners entered my spot and yelled at me to leave. According to her, keeping the hospital clean was more important than the feelings of the patients’ families.
Blinking back tears I tried to compose myself before returning to the room. I guess I was successful because it didn’t take long for Ron to begin coaxing me to play gin rummy. Just as I’d given into the doctors’ orders to leave the hall I finally surrendered to his pleas for a game partner.
My son moved over so I could settle on his bed as Ron started dealing. My first card was an ace of spades, then a nine of hearts. Next came a two of spades, and a four. It was getting interesting. After that I received an eight of hearts and an ace of the same suit. Then Ron dealt me a ten of hearts and my eyes grew big when he gave me a three of spades. All I needed for gin was two more aces. I couldn’t believe it when he dealt me the ace of clubs and as I saw the next card was an ace of diamonds I looked up in astonishment. Ron, his wife, my son, and everyone else in the room were grinning at me. That’s when I did what Ron wanted. I smiled back at them.
Proud of his success the young father broke into laughter and I joined in. No longer was I so angry. I was still scared but somehow, deep down, I think I was reassured that HaShem would help me deal with my fear after seeing how He had sent me someone, practically a stranger, with a strong message of caring.
Epilogue: The test for leukemia was negative. Two days afterwards my son was diagnosed with rheumatoid pediatric arthritis and treated with aspirin. Thankfully, after several months he returned to full health, the disease never reappeared, and eight years later he was able to serve as a combat soldier in the Israeli army.
*not the real name